Eye on Ivan
Thursday, September 16, 2004
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Robert Latham praised South Mississippians for heeding Tuesday's evacuation order and pledged to continue public education efforts to prove it was not done in vain.
"We have to be ready for Mother Nature to do something we don't expect," said Latham, who adamantly stated the state had "no apologies" for its order. He arrived in Gulfport late Thursday morning after riding down in MEMA's new tricked-out mobile operations center.
Latham emphasised that had Hurrican Ivan turned a few degrees to the west instead of the east, "it would have been catastrophic here instead of in Pensacola and the Florida panhandle." He speculated that residents, frightened by the succession of powerful storms that hit Florida over the past month, were especially motivated by powerful-looking Ivan after its westerly jog around Cuba into the Gulf of Mexico.
The mandatory evacuation of all people from south of I-10 caused an estimated 75,000 vehicles to clog the area's four major northbound highways. Harrison County Civil Defense Director Linda Rouse said Wednesday 31,000 of those vehicles were on Interstate 59, with another 25,000 on U.S. 49.
Latham said the plan was always under evaluation. One of the items that was brought to the attention of MEMA and the Mississippi Department of Transportation were traffic lights on U.S. 49. Officials will examine the idea of taking manual control of the lights in future evacuations to help vehicle flow.
Evacuees reported the normal drive of approximately 75 minutes from Gulfport to Hattiesburg took nearly four times that long Tuesday.
That's acceptable to Latham.
"Someone said it took 12 hours to get to Jackson," said Latham. "I said, 'You got to Jackson.'"
Officials said the evacuation was deemed complete a full 11 hours before Ivan made landfall.
The fact that state and local officials called for the implementation of the evacuation play was only half the battle.
"I think a solid plan is good," Latham said. "The plan doesn't work if the execution doesn't."
-- reported by Don Hammack
Copyright 2004 Knight Ridder. All rights reserved. Any copying, redistribution or retransmission of any
of the contents of this service without the express written consent of Knight Ridder is expressly prohibited.