Warren County holds drill to deal with nuclear accident victims

Published 4:47 pm Monday, February 27, 2023

It was an exercise no one hopes they have to do for real.

Last Thursday night, while drivers traveled along U.S. 61 North heading for their destinations, Vicksburg and Warren County firefighters, Warren County sheriff’s deputies and other volunteers were at nearby Sherman Avenue Elementary School participating in a drill to handle Claiborne County residents who would have to leave their homes in the event of a nuclear accident at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station.

Warren County Emergency Management director John Elfer said Warren County is a host county for evacuees in the event of an accident at Grand Gulf.

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“This is a reception center activity that would support an action that occurred at Grand Gulf Nuclear Station that resulted in contaminated nuclear particles that left the plant and a portion of Claiborne County would need to evacuate,” Elfer said as he pointed to the stations set up in the parking lot. “We would shelter and decontaminate and monitor a portion of that group.”

Depending on the plume of debris and the wind’s direction, he said, “We’d probably get between 900 to 1,200 people here.”

Warren County, Elfer said, was identified as a host county when Grand Gulf was being built. It is one of four host counties that would handle evacuees. Hinds County, Copiah County and Adams County are the other three host counties. Claiborne is the risk county because it is home to Grand Gulf.

If Claiborne County residents were to leave their homes and come to Warren County, they would be directed to the reception center where a series of steps would be taken, Elfer said.

“Their cars would be washed first, then they get out and go through a series of stations to be monitored for radioactivity,” he said. “Attempts would be made to decontaminate (the person) dry using tape and vacuum cleaners. If they couldn’t, they’d go through wet decontamination (a shower). If still contaminated, people would go to River Region.”

After the decontamination stations, the people who are cleared would go inside a building where they would meet with representatives from the Red Cross and the Department of Human Services. They would be registered, offered food and beverages and wait until Entergy locates a place for them to stay.

Elfer said the drill is required by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency and held every two years to demonstrate the county’s ability to serve as a reception center. Warren County receives an annual fee from the state to support the activity with supplies and training.

Thursday’s activity was an evaluated drill and representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency and local officials who observed and graded the work of the volunteers.

The firefighters — volunteer and the Vicksburg Fire Department, Elfer said, run the reception center.

“The volunteers and the city firefighters do a very good job,” he said.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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