South Mississippi residents urged to prepare for Isaac

By Holbrook Mohr/The Associated Press

PEARL — Gov. Phil Bryant and emergency officials are urging south Mississippi residents to prepare for a possible hit from Tropical Storm Isaac.

The storm was too far out Friday to know exactly where it will make landfall or how strong it will be, but forecasters say it could come ashore somewhere along the northern Gulf Coast on Tuesday or Wednesday. That forecast would have the storm making landfall before or on the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which is Wednesday, at a time when memorial events are scheduled in south Mississippi for the deadly 2005 storm.

Bryant said during a news conference Friday at the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency in Pearl that residents need to take “personal responsibility” and prepare by planning and gathering items they might need. State officials are monitoring the storm and will react as needed, he said.

“As the hours pass and the tracking of the storm hopefully gets better we can determine exactly which direction it is moving then we will step by step begin to implement a reactionary plan to effect the lower six counties,” Bryant said.

Bryant said he had planned to leave Friday for the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., but he’s delaying the trip at least for now to keep an eye on Isaac.

MEMA director Robert Latham said south Mississippi officials could decide on evacuation plans by Sunday or Monday, depending on the storm’s strength and track. Evacuations are at the discretion of local leaders and the orders should be followed whether it’s a voluntary or mandatory evacuation, he said.

“If it’s voluntary, that’s the time to evacuate because you can do it kind of at a pace that’s comfortable for you. When you get into mandatory evacuations, people do it at the last minute, there are going to be trafficking jams, you’re not going to move at a pace you’d like to move and it makes it a little more dangerous,” Latham said

Current forecast models show Mississippi on the west side of the storm, which doesn’t usually generate the big surges found on the east side, Latham said.

“But I’d also warn you that if you go back to Hurricane Katrina, I hate to keep using that as an example, but all the models early on showed it being an east coast storm. And we’re still early enough that as the modeling goes on (Isaac) could tick further to the west. We have to be prepared for that,” Latham said.

Across south Mississippi, officials were keeping a close watch on the storm.

Bill Holmes, executive director of the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi, said “thank goodness” there are no big events planned at the facility next week when the storm could hit.

But, he said, this is a busy time for tourism and officials are keeping a close watch on Isaac.

Holmes said his staff will meet Monday when there should be more reliable predictions about where the storm will go and how strong it could get.

“We’re going to wait and see what happens once it crosses Cuba. We’re always looking around in the event of what we need to do. It won’t take us long to make the preparations that we’ll need here,” Holmes said.

Click here for the weather in Northeast Mississippi with radar and more at the DJournal.com weather page.