Members of Petal Fire Department spent Thursday night conducting water rescues at homes throughout the city after heavy rainfall from Winter Storm Eboni caused flooding from southeastern Louisiana to New Jersey.
Mayor Hal Marx said city firemen, along with the help of personnel and boats from the Hattiesburg Fire Department, rescued approximately 25 people from their homes during the flood, in addition to about 16 employees at the Eastwood Shopping Center. Most of the home rescues came from the area near Railroad Street and Leeville Road.
Because there was no mandatory evacuation, there were some people who chose not to leave their homes when given the chance.
"It was a very busy night last night," Petal Mayor Hal Marx said. "I already thanked Mayor (Toby) Barker personally, and I also want to say our fire department leadership with (Chief) Joe Hendry and (Assistant Chief) Marion Sims had the foresight a couple years ago to buy a former military truck on surplus for $1. We used that truck last night on several rescues.
"Some people wonder why we have to have that truck, and last night was a good example of why we need that, because that vehicle was one of the few vehicles that could get in and out of some of those flooded areas."
Petal Fire Department officials also conducted a swift-water rescue Friday at Twin Lakes, where a man who had been kayaking got stuck because of the high waters.
According to the National Weather Service in Jackson, Hattiesburg recorded 7.5 inches of rain over a 24-hour period, while people around the area reported in excess of 10 inches in their backyard rain gauges. The rain began about 1 p.m. Thursday and continued into early Friday morning.
Several stretches of road in Hattiesburg – including Lincoln Road at 34th Avenue, Providence Street, and U.S. 49 at West Pine Street – were closed because of flooding, though most roads were open again by Friday morning. A portion of Byrd Boulevard at Old Richton Road in Petal also was reported as washed out late Thursday evening, but most the of main thoroughfares, including North Railroad Street and Woodside Drive in Petal, were open by Friday.
During a news conference Friday at the Forrest County Emergency Operations Center, Forrest County Emergency Management Agency director Glen Moore said officials are concerned with three bodies of water in the area regarding flooding: the Leaf, the Bouie River and the Black Creek. At noon Friday, the Leaf River was at 23.6 feet - 1.6 feet above the flood stage of 22 feet - with the crest of 26.5 feet expected to happen at noon Saturday.
"Usually on a river flood event, it's a three to four day event, but the Leaf has just shot up really quick," Moore said. "So we're really 24 hours away from the crest, so it's going to be something we really need to pay attention to."
The Bouie River was at 20.87 feet at noon Friday, above the flood stage of 18 feet. That river is forecast to crest at 22 feet at 6 a.m. Saturday.
Black Creek in Brooklyn was at 20.27 feet at noon Friday, slightly above the flood stage of 20 feet. The creek is expected to rise to 22 feet at midnight Friday.
Moore's department currently has five teams doing damage assessment in the county, with about 50 reports filed as of Friday afternoon.
"I just ask everyone to pay attention to road conditions over the next 24 hours if you're in the area where these floods are going to occur," Moore said. "Pay attention to the road signs, the barricades, and please obey your law enforcement officers who are trying to direct traffic. If you do all this, there's no reason this couldn't be an event where we don't see a loss of life."
Barker compared the current situation to the flooding in March 2016, when a large part of the Mobile-Bouie Street and East Jerusalem neighborhoods were affected by flash flooding.
"Even though that one got to 27.6 feet and this one is only slated to get to 26-and-a-half feet by noon (Saturday), we want you to treat this like it's 2016," he said. "So if your yard or house took on water in March 2016 during that flood event, there's a high likelihood that you're going to get that water again this time."
A shelter will be set up by the Red Cross at Petal Civic Center, 712A South Main St. in Petal, for those wishing to vacate their homes in advance of any flooding events. Individuals who need a ride to the civic center can call (601) 545-4500 to be picked up by a city employee.
"We ask you not to wait until the water is rising," Barker said. "If you know you took on water in 2016, go ahead and make plans to make that route right now."
Sandbags also are available at Hattiesburg Fire Station #1, 810 North Main St. in downtown Hattiesburg.
Hattiesburg officials are urging residents who sustained damage to their home or business to call (601) 544-5911 to make a report, which will allow Forrest County emergency staff to compile a complete report to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.