Isaac slams south, heads northStorm due here today; rain forecast down to 4 inches

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Isaac was expected to bring its worst effects to Warren County tonight and Thursday.

The Category 1 storm was packing sustained winds of 80 mph as its eye stalled southeast of Houma, La., this morning, said National Weather Service meteorologist Alan Gerard.

“We are really only expecting slow weakening today,” Gerard said.

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Most damage from Isaac was expected to remain below the Interstate 20 corridor this afternoon, but flash flooding and tornado watches are expected tonight as the storm continues its path, said Warren County Emergency Management Director John Elfer.

“You need to be sure to have your alert system in place and be sure it is one that will wake you up,” Elfer said.

The county’s CodeRed emergency alert system sends free calls or text messages about severe weather to cell or land-line phones. Residents who register for CodeRed are automatically enrolled and should receive alerts immediately, he said.

Signup for the alert system is available on the city and county websites and residents without Internet access may register by calling Elfer’s office at 601-636-1544.

Emergency officials were to meet at 1 p.m. today to continue to assess the threat of the storm.

“We are continuing to monitor the storm and are in constant contact with the National Weather Service, community leaders and community response agencies,” Elfer said. “We are well-organized and we have a plan.”

Rains in Vicksburg were forecast Tuesday to dump up to 10 inches of rain, but Gerard said this morning the prediction was down to 4 inches.

All elementary and secondary schools in Warren County were closed today and will be closed Thursday because of the storm, school officials announced Tuesday. Hinds Community College said its Vicksburg branch would remain open.

No weather damage was reported Tuesday, Sheriff Martin Pace said, and the sheriff’s department was continuing to monitor the weather and run double-staffed shifts.

“We would much rather be prepared and not need than not be ready,” Pace said.

Warren County was also a hub for evacuees fleeing the storm’s direct path.

Derek and Kim Stubbs of Destrehan, La., and their 5-year-old twin sons, Peyton and Dylan, were some of the 53,000 residents ordered to leave St. Charles Parish — the only area in southeast Louisiana with a parishwide evacuation order.

“Vicksburg’s where we’ve always met,” said Kim, a public school teacher and a Hot Springs, Ark., native. “It’s always been the perfect midway point when we meet up with my parents.”

When it was time to flee Isaac’s path, the Stubbses factored in history, past and present.

“I didn’t want to go to far from home,” said Derek, who does auto body work and whose love of history draws him to the Vicksburg National Military Park. “We went to Jackson for (Hurricane) Katrina, so we just said, ‘Let’s go to Vicksburg.’ It’s quite a rush being here (in the park). And this is a beautiful town.”

Evacuees in Vicksburg appeared fewer in number on Tuesday than the mass exodus for Katrina or Hurricane Gustav in 2008. Both were stronger storms than Isaac several days before landfall. About 1,100 evacuees were housed in Vicksburg shelters and private homes for more than two months following Katrina; about 700 stayed in local shelters and homes for Gustav. Hotel rooms were still being rented today at Quality Inn on Clay Street, where 60 of its 129 rooms were occupied by Isaac evacuees front desk clerk Brandy Houseal said.

“They’re still coming in,” Houseal said.

Econo Lodge, on East Clay Street, was still filling up this morning with those who sought shelter from Isaac, said front desk clerk Tommie Hazzlerigg.

“We do have availability,” Hazzlerigg said.

No public shelters were open by this morning in Warren County.

Billy Spears of Bogalusa, La., wasn’t ordered to leave, but decided it was best to pack his pickup with furniture and head north with wife, Vinnie.

“Yeah, I’m through because of the storm,” Spears said, topping off his tank at a Kangaroo gas station just as a tanker truck replenished fuel supply. “I don’t know how bad the storm’s going to be, so I’m going to Arkansas with my wife.”

Fuel was refilled in storage tanks at a Texaco station at Indiana Avenue and North Frontage Road after supplies ran out late Monday, a store manager said. Tempers of customers were remarkably calm, she said.

Regular gas ranged from $3.35 to $3.55 in Vicksburg on Tuesday.