Officials around the Pine Belt are making preparations in advance of Tropical Storm Barry, which is expected to make landfall Saturday on the Louisiana coast.
To alert residents of inclement weather and conditions associated with the storm, Mayor Toby Barker and Glen Moore, the executive director of the Forrest County Emergency Management Agency, held a news conference Friday at the Forrest County Emergency Operations Center on U.S. 11 in Hattiesburg. Moore said Forrest County officials are anticipating a flash flood event, with 4-8 inches of rainfall expected and a possible 10-12 inches in some areas.
"We've just conducted a governmental briefing - we had all the government agencies from the county, the City of Hattiesburg, the City of Petal - basically to give a briefing of what to expect and to make sure everybody's plan is in place," he said. "Everybody's just waiting for the storm to get here to see what happens.
"There's going to be a slight chance that we could have a tornado threat. As the system makes landfall and begins its northern track, we could see some brief spin-up tornadoes, so be aware of that."
Moore said one of the main things residents can do to keep safe is to obey any barricades or signs they see on the roads.
"We had this (problem) with the last three or four major flooding events, where people don't obey those signs," he said. "They go around those signs, and there are vehicles swept off the roadway, and then they're swept off into the creek, and we have to put a swift-water rescue team in to rescue them.
"All that can be avoided if they just obey the sign and turn around, not put themselves and first responders at risk. If you come up up on a road and it's closed - there's a barricade there for a reason, and you don't know the depth of the water - please turn around and don't put yourself and others at risk by going around that barricade.
Sandbags and/or sand will be provided at three locations around Hattiesburg and Petal: the Forrest County EOC at 4080 U.S. 11 in Hattiesburg, Hattiesburg Fire Station No. 1 at 810 North Main St., and Petal Fire Station No. 1 at 102 Fairchild Dr. Tarps also are available at the Forrest County EOC, and the Forrest County 361 Shelter at 946 Sullivan Dr., adjacent to the Forrest County Multipurpose Center is on standby.
"If we go under a tornado watch, the Forrest County 361 Shelter will be open," Moore said. "Also, if we see a need for evacuees from the coast, from Louisiana that need shelter, the Red Cross does have people on standby to open the 361 shelter."
Barry is expected to land early Saturday near Morgan City, Louisiana, possibly as a Category 1 hurricane. According to the Associated Press, forecasters said the storm could bring 10 to 20 inches of rain through Sunday across a swath of Louisiana that includes New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well as southwestern Mississippi, with pockets in Louisiana getting 25 inches.
"Remember that we're in a city that's seen four national disasters in the past seven years that were federally declared," Barker said. "So we know this is coming, we know we can expect 8 inches of rain, so we need to take that seriously.
"We have have a rule for these types of events, and it's called 'Don't Do Dumb Things' - that is the motto for Hattiesburg when it comes to dealing with severe weather. So if everyone will just be smart about this, we'll ride it out and we'll be OK on the other side."