Waiting on Ivan

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

Officials with the Alabama Emergency Management Agency are monitoring Hurricane Ivan very closely and are urging residents and visitors in Alabama to do the same and be prepared. The current projected path shows Ivan hitting the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday evening of this week around Apalachicola with the center of the storm expected to cross into Georgia at the Alabama state line.

"Hurricanes are unpredictable and the current projected path could change and have a major impact on the central and south Alabama counties," said Bruce Baghman, Director, AEMA. "We want residents and visitors in Alabama to pay close attention to this storm and be prepared.

If Hurricane Ivan stays on its projected path or shifts more to the west when it tracks up the Gulf of Mexico, Alabama will likely face a major impact from this storm. Therefore, residents should be prepared. The following are tips for preparing for the storm:

n Store drinking water in bathtubs, jugs and bottles (one gallon per person per day).

n Be sure to have a supply of non-perishable food items and baby supplies.

n Check battery powered equipment for portable radio or televisions to make sure you have a source of information if your utility service is interrupted.

n Make sure you have a flashlight.

n Make sure you have enough prescription medication and a first aid kit before the storm strikes.

n Secure outdoor objects that could become debris such as large garbage cans, garden tools, toys, signs porch furniture and other such items.

n Keep your car fueled and have extra fuel on hand for portable generators.

n Keep tuned to local radio and television stations for the most updated information from the National Weather Service as well as special instructions from local officials.

As Hurricane Ivan gathers steam and takes shape it is becoming more evident Greenville may be in its path. Because of this city officials have been holding steady meetings and passing ideas any time they can to make sure they are ready when Ivan comes. They also realize the importance of the aftermath and preparing for the hard times that my come after the storm.

Tuesday morning several city officials gathered at the E-911 building to put together a game plan. Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon said the E-911 building would be very important during the uncertain time.

"The 911 building is going to be the hull of what we are trying to do," said McLendon. "This is a time that shows how bad you need to have a 911 system in place."

McLendon said the city would do everything they can to prepare.

"We are going to do the best we can, but we don't have all the answers," said McLendon. "The main thing is we want to be as prepared as we possibly can."

The possibilities as far as damage are many for the Butler County area. At the Tuesday meeting the officials discussed some of the problems that could arise. Greenville Fire Chief Mike Phillips said loss of power is almost certain. How long is the question.

"The power is probably going and if it does it could be for a long time," said Phillips. "We don't mean for a couple of hours, we mean for days and possibly weeks. We don't know, it is just a possibility."

Phillips said the city has made plans to put fuels aside for the city to use to make sure they will be functional.

"We will have a 100 gallon tank of gasoline and a 100 gallon tank of diesel," said Phillips. "We will have those available for the police and city to use."

Milton Luckie said the Street Department had also made plans to stockpile fuels to help out.

"We will have 500 gallons of gas and diesel fuel to help out," said Luckie. "We will probably put it under the big shed."

Officials said they will likely issue gas cards for use of the supplies to make sure it gets to those who need it.

Evacuations will present an entirely new problem for Greenville. During Hurricane Opal a mass of people trying to flee the south end of the state and the Florida panhandle caused havoc on major highways and interstates. The state has taken measures to make sure the evacuation goes smoother this time around.

Greenville Police Chief Lonzo Ingram said he has seen what can happen in times like this and hopes these measures will help.

"When Hurricane Opal came through the traffic was so jammed it took people 12 to 15 hours to get to places it should have only taken them three to four hours to get," said Ingram. "The Highway Department came up with a plan where if massive evacuation occurred all four lanes will be northbound."

Ingram said law enforcement should be prepared for the swing.

"There are so many drills on this everyone will be ready," said Ingram. "It will likely go from Baldwin County and Mobile to Highway 80 in Montgomery."

Getting people out of the areas of danger is one problem. Where to put them is another. Officials at the meeting said while storm shelters will be open in Greenville it is not a safe place for people to stop. Greenville is located far too close to the Gulf for evacuees to stop. Travelers are encouraged to continue as far north as possible.

"One of the big questions we have about the hurricane is about shelter," said Phillips. "That will be determined by the Red Cross and the EMA. We know we need to get ready for a lot of people coming through town. They may not be staying, but they may be coming through town. They really need to be travelling further north. Coming to Greenville really won't do them a lot of good if the storm is still strong when it gets here."

As far as shelters, Phillips said they would be open for those who need them.

"I'm sure they will have the shelters open," said Phillips. "The YMCA will probably be one of the first. Red Cross and EMA have a list of the shelters they will open."

Phillips said it would take a lot of effort to run the shelters.

"It takes an awful lot of people to open and operate a shelter," said Phillips. "They know how to deal with those situations and they will be ready."

Another major problem Butler County residents will have to face is when the hurricane is over. The problems the storm brings with it will likely linger for some time. Aside from a loss of power, citizens also face a possible lack of communication. Cell phones will likely be useless if tower damage is incurred. Residents are urged to be ready for such a situation and prepare as best they can.

While the situation is frightening, McLendon wanted people to know we would be able to work through whatever happens.

"Just remember this is not something people have never gone through," said McLendon. "This is not a good situation, but we will get through it and everything will work out."

Getting through whatever damage may come requires cooperation of those who work through the conditions. Hospitals, city and county workers are all encouraged documenting their work and expenses to keep track and receive reimbursement through FEMA.

"When all of this is set and done we will get together and put it on a list," said McLendon. "The faster we have that together for FEMA the better off we will be. It is also a good idea to take pictures of all of our buildings and the things around them if we have some damage. The better we are prepared for this the faster we can try to get our money back."

As of now, the officials plan to continue holding meeting to stay on top of things.

"Our plan is to put more people at the library Wednesday for another meeting," said McLendon. "We will try to have one more meeting and talk about how we see everything coming out."

McLendon ended the meeting by expressing just how urgent the situation could become.

"This thing is serious," said McLendon. "I don't think I have to tell anyone that. I am extremely concerned about what is about to happen. We are all going to do the best we can and we are taking this very seriously."