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Unprecedented Times: State prepares for impacts from Laura and Marco

Governor Tate Reeves has issued a State of Emergency as officials anticipate impacts on Mississippi from Tropical storms Laura and Marco.

Currently, it is believed that Laura will make landfall in Louisiana as a hurricane.  According to the National Weather Service, Marco is strengthening quickly,  forecast to become a hurricane later today, and is expected to make landfall in Texas.

Reeves, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Greg Michel, and Major General Jansen Boyles, Adjutant General of the Mississippi National Guard, addressed the state Saturday morning to address Mississippi’s level of preparedness.

Reeves said, “This has happened ten times since 1869, where two storms hit America within a one-week period. The last time this occurred was in September 2002, before that was 1959, and before that it occurred in 1933, and seven times before that.”

“We are monitoring these storms closely,” said Reeves.  “Tropical storm Marco, we are likely to start seeing some effects from that storm – perhaps tropical storm winds as early as late tomorrow. But we also expect, Tropical Storm Marco, based upon the current analysis, is more likely to go to our west and more likely to hit the state of Texas.”

Image courtesy of the National Weather Service

If Marco does make landfall in Texas, Reeves noted that South Mississippi will potentially see tropical storm-level winds.

The other Tropical Storm slightly behind Marco, is Tropical Storm Laura.  Reeves stated, “We do believe, at this time, it is likely to hit the state of Louisiana.  However, that would put us on the eastern front of the storm which tends to be hit the hardest.  Laura is expected to strengthen and become, at a minimum, a Level-1 hurricane.  Once it gets into the gulf, it could go very fast or very slow, and could gain significant strength.  We need to be prepared.”

Image courtesy of the National Weather Service

Reeves said, “It is early in the process.  Both storms have several land masses that they will likely go over, and we know that brings a significant lack of predictability.  We have a lot to learn about these storms over the next two or three days before we know exactly what is going to occur.”

Reeves said, “I want to remind Mississippians, particularly our friends on the Gulf Coast, that we are in unprecedented times.  We are dealing with, not only, two potential storms in the Gulf of Mexico, we are also dealing with COVID-19.”

Because of COVID-19, Reeves emphasized that shelter space is limited. “What that means to you is, should you need to get out, you need to make plans early.  What we cannot have is a mad rush of people into our sheltering space.  Because of COVID-19, we are trying very hard to maintain social distancing, the requirement of masks, and other things.”

At this point, Reeves cautioned, it is not known if evacuations will be necessary or even mandatory.   “We do want to put you on alert, should you need to evacuate, we’re going to need to do so earlier than normal because we’re not going to have the shelter space simply because our total sheltering space will be reduced by approximately half to two-thirds.”

Colonel Greg Michel, Executive Director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency said, “Pretty much what we know right now is uncertainty.  It’s anybody’s guess once these storms start swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Michel said they have spoken with leaders in the lower 24 counties.  “There are no unmet needs and all of the counties have done exactly what they need to do to be prepared,” said Michel.

Michel stated, “I want to reiterate what we’ve been talking about since the beginning of hurricane season.  You need to avoid congregate shelter during this pandemic.  Shelters will be made available to those who need them.”

“We have done everything we possibly can to ensure Mississippians have what they need when they need it,” said Michel.  “The state of Florida is going to work with us in helping to set up a non-congregate opportunity for those who need it, particularly if you don’t have the means to do that.”

Michel said the key is to plan now. “The Governor’s State of Emergency allows us to start doing some things, but the most important thing is to watch the weather and start preparing now.  These storms could turn into nothing more than a lot of wind and rain, but they can also turn into a Category 5 hurricane very quickly, so you need to be prepared.”

Major General Jansen Boyles with the Mississippi National Guard says they have been preparing for these storms, and any others, for some time.  “Through the month of August, we have been working on getting our logistics assets in place for response.  We have alerted our units to the point where they’re prepared to respond if necessary.”

Boyles said, “We always want to be poised to support those local Emergency Operations Centers with engineer and police assets.  We also want to be prepared to go in with larger forces if needed to provide for freedom of movement with our engineering assets along the coast and to help with security operations for local law enforcement.”

One week from today will be the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and Governor Reeves said, “I can tell you with certainty, seven days out, we had no idea of the size and severity of the storm that was about to hit us.  That is why, five days before landfall of another potential hurricane, we are warning everyone to start preparing now.  We prepare for the worst, pray for the best, and we expect somewhere in between.”

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