By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press
GULFPORT — Officials in Mississippi’s most populated coastal county started transporting people with special needs to shelters Tuesday as the Gulf Coast prepares for Tropical Storm Isaac.
Harrison County Emergency Operations Director Rupert Lacy said early Tuesday that nearly 600 people had signed up for the county’s transportation list, though some have made other arrangements. The people who sign up don’t have cars or can’t drive.
Lacy said four shelters were to open in Harrison County at 8 a.m., including one for pets.
Coastal residents Charlotte Timmons and Brenda Batey took a sunrise walk on the beach before heading home when it began to rain. The retired women from Long Beach said they have prepared their homes and won’t take any risks, but they think Mississippi will be spared the devastation of some past storms.
Both women lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina, which leveled much of south Mississippi seven years ago Wednesday. If it looks like the storm will strengthen or take a more direct aim at Mississippi, they will move out of harms way.
Since Katrina, people have a more cautious attitude toward tropical weather, perhaps so cautious that there’s a danger of complacency setting in after near misses, Timmons said.
“It’s like crying wolf,” said Timmons, a 63-year-old retired media manager. “If they make such a big deal and start moving people out (too soon) and then it fizzles, people might not leave the next time,” Timmons said.
But she also said she understands the need to sound alarms because of those people who refuse to evacuate even in the worst of situations.
As Isaac pushed closer to shore, bands of rain began to pelt the Mississippi coast. Mandatory evacuations had been ordered in low lying areas in Jackson and Hancock counties. Many beachfront businesses were closed. Harbors were mostly empty, other than disabled boats that couldn’t be moved. In Pass Christian, a sail boat had washed aground near the beach and bobbled in the surf. Many houses were boarded up.
At least two casinos had closed in Harrison County and two others were shut down in Hancock County.
Water was creeping into a parking lot that faces Biloxi Bay and some was washing into the parking garage of the Palace Casino in Biloxi.
Timmons and Batey said they have friends who just can’t understand why they moved back to the coast after Katrina. But they can’t imagine not taking early morning walks on the beach.
“People say, ‘Why do you still live there?’ You can’t explain it,” said Batey, a 60-year-old retired language teacher.
Lacy, the emergency agency director, said Isaac’s projected path had been pushed to the west, but that doesn’t mean Mississippi is in the clear. It may not be a Katrina, but there will be strong winds, coastal flooding and rivers could spill out of their banks.
“It’s that hurry up and wait. I hate to say it that way but it is one of those that is a big concern for us,” Rupert said.
Associated Press Writer Jeff Amy in Biloxi contributed to this story.
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