State responds

Published 11:53 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The newest weather prediction has a bit of good news as Covington County is now expected to receive 3-4 inches of rain between Tuesday and today, instead of the earlier prediction of 4-6 inches.

“There is a little bit of good news, if there is such a thing right now, in that the heavier rain threat has shifted to the east slightly,” said Jeremie Shaffer, the county’s assistant emergency management agency (EMA) director. “Counties west of us are already experiencing heavier rainfall, but hopefully it won’t be as bad (here) as expected. We are currently under a flash flood watch until Wednesday morning.”

As of late Tuesday, the county was under a severe thunderstorm watch with predictions including isolated severe thunderstorms with damaging winds and large hail.

“(Weather officials) are currently hoping that the forecasted rainfall will not result in big rises in the rivers,” she said. “We’ll continue to monitor this situation and keep everyone updated as we know more.”

Local government officials are preparing for a worst-case scenario as the rain continues to fall on an already wet ground. Tuesday morning, the county commission approved a resolution declaring the county a state of local emergency, in response to Gov. Bob Riley’s Monday declaration of a disaster area in Covington and 11 other counties. By declaring a state of emergency, the governor authorizes the Alabama Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) to assist communities, make the appropriate assessments of damage and seek state and federal assistance for the affected areas.

Those AEMA officials were on hand Tuesday during the county’s emergency meeting.

Brock Long, AEMA director, said his officials will be monitoring the situation locally for the next two days.

“We’re really going to be watching these county roads, giving special attention to culvert areas,” Long said. “And we’re going to be here to give assistance to county agencies helping those individuals impacted in flood areas.

“We really want to stress to residents to not drive across water on the roadways,” he said. “Please use caution when traveling all roadways.”

County EMA director Kristi Stamnes said local residents also need to be mindful of any possible wind damage as a result of the storms.

“The ground is already saturated with water,” Stamnes said. “With the thunderstorms and high winds, there’s a good probability of downed trees. People need to be cautious and careful during this type of situation.”

Florala mayor Robert Williamson, who was on hand for the meeting, also urged his residents to notify authorities of any damage from last weekend’s weather. Two local businesses — Stateline Mini Mall and the Florala Clothing Store — lost their roofs and several homeowners reported minor damage.

“It doesn’t matter if they have insurance or not, we just need to know if they had damage,” Williamson said. “They can call city hall at 858-3612 or the EMA office.”

Anyone suffering damage during these storms or those who had damage as a result of last weekend’s storm is asked to notify the EMA office at 334-427-4911.