JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippians turned a cautious eye to the Gulf of Mexico Thursday as projections showed that Tropical Storm Nate could target the state.
Some on the state’s Gulf Coast began sandbagging, while officials cancelled the Saturday portion of an outdoor music festival and tried to figure out what to do about a car show that’s one of the area’s most popular tourist events.
Biloxi firefighters were handing out a message from the city’s mayor urging more than 700 recreational vehicle campers along the beachfront highway and in nearby RV parks to consider leaving early. Most are visiting the weeklong “Cruisin’ the Coast” car show, which officials are considering curtailing.
“We don’t want any of our visitors to be in harm’s way,” said city spokesman Vincent Creel. City officials feared such vehicles could be especially vulnerable to high winds, he said.
Louisiana resident Steve Wheeler said he was considering returning home early, in part to protect his 1955 Chevrolet. He’s one of more than 8,000 cruisers who registered for the festival, a record in its 21 years.
“It’s making me nervous, because I’m pulling this thing in an open trailer, and it’s never seen the rain,” Wheeler told WLOX-TV.
Wheeler’s friend Bill Foster, though, said he was hoping to stay, since he drove from Alaska.
“Forty-seven hundred miles, I drove all the way to get here, so we’re going to enjoy it,” said Foster.
Creel said the city also fears traffic congestion in beachfront areas Friday and Saturday as drawbridges open to allow boats to sail to sheltered anchorages inland.
“It might not be anything, but you’ve got to move every boat you have,” said Melissa Scallan, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
Tides are already forecast to be high, and Harrison County Emergency Management Director Rupert Lacy said that could amplify high water from Nate. But coastal officials were holding off on recommending evacuations and opening shelters. Lacy and Hancock County Emergency Management Director Brian Adam said those decisions might come Friday.
Some casinos could decide to close on their own, but Gaming Commission Executive Director Allen Godfrey said regulators have not yet ordered closure.
Officials were also taking precautions against excessive rainfall. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced it would discharge 40 million gallons of partially treated wastewater from a former fertilizer plant in Pascagoula. EPA took over wastewater treatment at the former Mississippi Phosphates plant earlier this year after money set aside during a bankruptcy proceeding to pay for wastewater treatment ran out. The EPA cited the possibility of high rainfall creating an uncontrolled spill. Previous spills of highly acidic water have damaged environmentally sensitive marshlands to east.
Mississippi Emergency Management Agency Director Lee Smithson advised residents to begin their storm preparations Thursday. But coastal officials were holding off on recommending evacuations and opening shelters. Hancock County Emergency Management Director Brian Adam said those decisions might come Friday.
Smithson said people should not be complacent about the possibility of a relatively weak hurricane. He says most fatalities during hurricanes happen because of drowning, not because of wind speed. Hurricanes can also cause spinoff tornadoes and power outages.