Originally created 07/20/00

State works to fine-tune storm plans

ATLANTA - By the time the peak of the hurricane season arrives in two weeks, new signs should mark 11 evacuation routes from the Georgia coast.

The signs were among many changes announced Tuesday by officials from state and volunteer agencies responsible for Georgia's storm preparations. They briefed reporters on the changes coming from lessons learned during last year's three-state evacuation ahead of the expected landfall of Hurricane Floyd.

Forecasters predict there will be 11 major storms this year, four of which are likely to be intense, said Barry Gooden, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service. So far, none has begun to form, but most tropical-storm activity typically occurs between August and October.

"We feel very confident this year that if we had another Floyd event, we know we could do a better job," said Don Stephens, general manager for American Red Cross disaster services in Georgia.

In the time since Floyd eventually bypassed the state, officials have trained 320 managers to operate shelters, bringing to 1,000 the number of volunteers equipped to operate the temporary housing. Only 82 official shelters were opened during the Floyd evacuation, and Mr. Stephens said more were needed.

To avoid the huge backups of last year, the Department of Transportation has added more evacuation routes, with police officers to direct traffic at key intersections. At least one state route, Georgia Highway 40, will be widened to handle more cars.

Last year, the department switched all lanes on Interstate 16 to westbound as far east as Swainsboro. But if another storm necessitates such a massive mobilization, the one-way lanes will extend 45 miles farther, all the way to Dublin, and seven interchanges will be opened on the reversed lanes.

Another enhancement in preparations includes better communication with the public through weather radios and messages on The Weather Channel, the DOT's mobile transmitters and Peach State Public Radio. For people who miss those messages, the Georgia Emergency Management Agency has a Web site at www.gema.state.ga.us.

As a last resort, 60 officers with the state Board of Pardons and Paroles have received GEMA training to knock on doors to alert residents of the need to evacuate.

"Our people know the roads and back roads where people are," said Chuck Topetzes, the agency's director for paroles.

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424.


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