Alabama Gov. Bob Riley recently announced the evacuation of certain low-lying, flood-prone areas of Mobile and Baldwin counties, reports the Mobile Register.
The significant threat of Hurricane Katrina prompted the governor to order the evacuations, which went into effect for Baldwin and Mobile Counties.
“I’ve discussed this with local officials and we’re in agreement that this evacuation is necessary to save lives, that’s our number-one priority,” Riley said in a news release.
Mandatory evacuation in Mobile County is for areas south of I-10. “Those in all low-lying and flood-prone areas south of I-10 in Baldwin County and those living along the Mobile Bay and other water inlets also fall under the evacuation order,” the governor’s news release said.
According to the Mobile Register, Walter Dickerson, director of the Mobile County Emergency Management Agency, called for a voluntary evacuation of zone 2, a flood-prone area east of I-65.
According to information issued by Dickerson during a news conference at the Emergency Operations Center in west Mobile, Bayou La Batre, Dauphin Island, Alabama Port, Coden, Saraland, Bayou Sara and downtown Mobile were all listed as areas particularly prone to flooding.
Mobile’s WAVE public transit system began shuttling people to evacuation shelters Sunday afternoon on an hourly basis, according to an MCEMA news release.
Across Mobile Bay, the Baldwin County Commission called for an evacuation of an estimated 32,000 mobile homes and all low-lying, flood-prone areas south of I-10 as well as those near the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, reports the Mobile Register.
According to the newspaper, Orange Beach and Gulf Shores officials called for mandatory evacuations of all areas that flooded during Hurricane Ivan, which in its direct hit produced a storm surge comparable to that anticipated in Katrina.
In Gulf Shores, the evacuation applied to all areas south of Fort Morgan Road, the Fort Morgan peninsula and Plash Island, reports the Mobile Register. Perdido Key, the south side of Alabama 182 and the back-bay neighborhoods at Bear Point, Marina Road and Cotton Bayou Drive were cleared out in Orange Beach.
Orange Beach City Administrator Jeff Moon said the Foley Beach Express toll bridge would be closed and a curfew would be put into effect until further notice there and in Gulf Shores.
“Since we didn’t do a mandatory evacuation [for everyone one the island], we don’t want people out there in their cars riding around in the storm,” Moon said. “When it’s safe, we’ll lift it.”
According to the Mobile Register, Riley and Mobile County officials warned that even though Hurricane Katrina appeared to be heading straight for New Orleans, residents here need to make sure they head for higher ground before it’s too late.
“The primary threat posed by Hurricane Katrina is going to be flooding from storm surge, so those being evacuated just need to make sure they reach higher ground,” Riley said.
“You should take it extremely seriously. Don’t be complacent because its coming into New Orleans,” said MCEMA chief Dickerson.
Cpl. Spencer Collier, a local Alabama State Trooper spokesman, said that traffic on I-10 from the Alabama border to the Florida border was “heavily congested” by fleeing motorists. According to Collier, traffic was crawling at 25 to 30 mph.
The Bankhead Tunnel, the two-lane shaft that goes under the Mobile River downtown, was closed to traffic late Sunday, Collier said. According to the newspaper, authorities said they were waiting until Monday morning to decide when to close the George Wallace Tunnel, the I-10 passage under the Mobile River.
At about 7:30 p.m. Sunday, authorities closed Alabama 193 from SR 188 (Alabama Port) to Dauphin Island as waves spilled onto the causeway, Collier said. The Hurricane was expected to make landfall near New Orleans at about 7 a.m. on Monday.
Mobile is nearly 130 miles east of New Orleans, but the storm is enormous, officials said. “There are huge outer bands stretching out about 185 miles or so, and we will start to experience some deteriorating conditions,” Dickerson said. “Again, I just want to express that it needs to be taken extremely serious. If you live in a house that has been accustomed to flooding, you need to go to higher ground. Go with family, friends or whatever the case may be.”
Dickerson said that even though National Hurricane Centers predict that Katrina will come ashore at or near New Orleans, the storm’s outer bands could cause serious wind damage and flooding in Mobile.
“Because it’s such a large storm, a Category 5, we are looking at a Category 1 storm as far as winds are concerned in Mobile County,” said Dickerson. He expects Category 4 or 5 storm surges along the Gulf Coast. “With a Category 4, you are looking at anywhere from 10 to 15 feet of water.”
He acknowledged that during Hurricane George, Water Street at the foot of Government Street downtown was under nearly 9 ft of water with the severe flooding extending into the nearby Orange Grove public housing community, reports the Mobile Register.
However, according to the newspaper, national weather officials have said that the surge at the north end of Mobile Bay could be as much as 20 ft, “which would severely affect downtown Mobile with water spilling downtown and extending as far west as Broad Street.”
“We are not practicing here, this is real serious,” said Mobile County Commissioner Mike Dean. “A lot of people see on the news that it may go into New Orleans. But if that thing jogs in the last minute to an easterly motion, then you know we are going to take a pretty good hit here.”
According to Dean, he and other officials are particularly concerned with flooding. “That is where the most devastation could occur, with the flooding.”