BREAKING NEWS: Frances turns eye on Alabama

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 5, 2004

With Frances downgraded to a tropical storm, hurricane forecasters began to turn their attention to Alabama as the next possible destination of this slow moving storm.

By Sunday afternoon, federal officials and Gov. Bob Riley activated emergency response centers in the state in preparation of the oncoming storm.

&uot;Frances could re-strengthen into a Category 1 storm – I wouldn’t be surprised – when it moves out into the Gulf, then hits southwest Georgia and Alabama,&uot; said a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official.

Emergency management officials in Alabama were warning residents they could see 10 inches of rain in some areas, with the heaviest rainfall expected along the Georgia-Alabama state line. No evacuations have been ordered.

On Monday, Gov. Bob Riley will activate the state’s Emergency Operations Center in preparation of severe weather associated with Hurricane Frances.

Hurricane Frances made landfall as a Category 2 hurricane at St. Lucie, Florida. The eye of the hurricane moved ashore late Saturday night.

For those living in Alabama who remember going without power for weeks following Hurricane Opal, their attention remained on Frances.

Those especially watching the storm are officials with Alabama Power and Pioneer Electric Cooperative.

According to Jan Ellis, spokeswoman for Alabama Power, crews are currently on standby waiting to see what will happen in the next 72 hours.

&uot;We’ve just got everybody on standby to see what happens and to see if it’s going into our service territory,&uot; Ellis said. &uot;We have people at our Birmingham center monitoring the storm.&uot;

Terry Wilhite, spokesman for Pioneer said the co-op is also monitoring the storm as it moves across Florida.

&uot;We’ve been intensely watching the storm for several days,&uot; he said. &uot;We are ready. Pioneer Electric’s system is always energized. For that reason, we remind our members to be aware of fallen power lines. Even though lines are down, they can still be hot.&uot;

Wilhite said Pioneer is easily able to respond to bad weather based on the fact that, it’s what they do when it’s not stormy that helps them when it does storm.

&uot;We have a Hurricane Preparedness plan,&uot; he said. &uot;We’ve been working the plan.

We also remind the family members of those who may have life support or critical care equipment, to have a generator or another backup plan ready in a moment’s notice. Of course, no utility promises total uninterruptible electricity.&uot;

Even if the storm doesn’t cause widespread outages here, many of Pioneer Electric’s linemen most likely will be among an electric co-op team from Alabama responding to devastated areas. Likewise, Pioneer has already been promised the assistance of other electric cooperatives, should it come to that.

&uot;All utilities, including Pioneer, have a systematic procedure for getting electricity restored in a devastating outage,&uot; he said. &uot;Transmission lines must be intact to substations. Main feeder lines from the substations throughout our system have to be intact. Then, individual service lines must be energized, for the lights to come on at home. It’s similar to making the strand of Christmas lights work. One fault along the line will shut an entire area down.&uot;

In the event that the worse case scenario does occur, Wilhite said the Co-op proved in the past it can quickly respond.

&uot;With Hurricane Opal in 1995, most of our system was put on the ground,&uot; he said. &uot;Our linemen, working in concert with other co-ops from out-of-state, helped rebuild the system in record time.&uot;

Meanwhile, Hurricane Ivan – the fifth hurricane of the season – was moving westward across the Caribbean and could follow the same path of Charley and Frances, and possibly enter the Gulf of Mexico as a full-scale hurricane.

In the event very serious weather does come through Butler County such as the case when Opal hit in 1995, FEMA offers the following safety tips for after the storm:

First, stay in a safe location while it is storming.

After the storm passes, check your family and neighbors, treating any minor injuries at home and calling for help if they are beyond your expertise.

Call police or utility companies immediately to report any sparking or downed power lines. Stay away from trees touching power lines. Stay out of puddles.

Don’t touch any electrical appliances, wires or equipment unless they’re in a dry area or you’re standing on a dry piece of wood while wearing rubber gloves and rubber footwear.

Don’t strike matches until you’re sure no gas is leaking.

Be careful of sharp objects.

Don’t use the water until the local water utility, through the media, says it’s safe to do so.

Monitor the storm and government officials on radio or television. Pay attention to emergency workers.

Notify one out-of-town friend or family member that you are safe and ask that person to tell everyone else. Otherwise, stay off the phone; it’s needed for emergency workers.

Open all windows to air out the house.

In the event of power outages, check food for spoilage. Don’t open the freezer, refrigerator or ice chest often.

Find insurance documents and other important papers if your home is damaged.

Beware of snakes.

The barometric pressure drops associated with a hurricane or tropical storm tend to drive the reptiles a bit crazy. Also, watch for insects and frightened animals that may take up lodging in your place.

Don’t sightsee. Avoid driving. Roads may be littered with tire-damaging nails. Traffic lights may not be working and signs may be blown down, increasing the risk of accidents.

The Clanton Advertiser and the National Weather Service contributed to this report.