Time to prepare for hurricanes

Special to the Herald-Guide
June 10, 2011 at 9:37 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

By Renee Simpson
With forecasters calling for an active hurricane season in 2011, St. Charles Parish leaders are urging residents to get their own family emergency plans in order in advance of storm threats.

“We know from past experiences that all it takes is one storm,” St. Charles Parish Emergency Preparedness Director Scott Whelchel said. “We may only have to deal with one, but if it’s intense enough, there’s the potential to cause major, Katrina-like problems for our parish.”

While the Corps of Engineers will complete permanent 100-year levee protection for much of the East Bank of the parish shortly, residents on the West Bank remain extremely vulnerable to storm surge. Officials recently received a permit for Phase II of the St. Charles Parish West Bank Hurricane Protection levee, but construction is years away, with federal funding needed to expedite the project.

Even in areas with levee protection, a severe hurricane could overtop those defenses. In the run-up to a storm event, the St. Charles Parish Emergency Operations Center uses scientific data, SLOSH (Sea, Lake and Overland Surges from Hurricanes) modeling and other tools to predict surge heights. And officials do not take lightly the decision to ask residents to evacuate.

“If we’re calling for a mandatory evacuation it’s because we have credible scientific data showing there will be a threat to human life,” St. Charles Parish President V.J. St. Pierre said.

St. Pierre added that despite recent pumping station upgrades, canal clean outs and drainage maintenance that will help mitigate rainfall flooding, storm surges are intensely destructive.

In further preparation for hurricane season, government departments last week participated in a tabletop hurricane exercise focusing on manpower and personnel organization during storm recovery. In addition, parish employees this spring also received a refresher course on the registration software to be used during the parish’s assisted evacuation program, which provides transportation and shelter to residents who have no means of evacuating.

HESCO Bastions, purchased last year, will once again be used in parish flood fighting, especially in the vulnerable area along Bayou Des Allemands. Made of wire mesh and felt, the units stand four feet high and can be quickly filled with sand to create sturdy temporary levees.

For more information about hurricane preparedness, assisted evacuation and preferred evacuation routes, visit stcharlesparish-la.gov/hurricane and getagameplan.org. Special needs residents or those who will require assistance evacuating should call (985) 783-5050 immediately.

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