With landfall of Hurricane Gustav still several days away, and a storm path that can still vary widely, local and state emergency management officials are wasting no time preparing for a potential disaster.

Representatives from several aid and law enforcement agencies met Thursday for briefings at the Office of Emergency Management in Corsicana to sit in on statewide conference calls detailing plans and “what if?” scenarios to respond to a possible hurricane strike along the Gulf Coast.

City, county, state and local relief agencies and medical personnel took part in the briefings, designed to get possible strike areas on alert, and locations along evacuation routes — such as Corsicana — prepared for a possible influx of evacuees. As part of a plan developed in the post-Katrina days, Corsicana has been designated as the “destination city” for evacuees from La Porte in that statewide plan.

“What we are preparing for is a point-to-point evacuation procedure for the city of La Porte,” explained Eric Ryan Meyers, the county’s emergency management coordinator. “Our agreement is to take up to 650 evacuees.”

Should the hurricane’s path necessitate such an evacuation of the coastal city, shelter will be provided at Cornerstone Baptist Church, and if needed, Northside Baptist Church, Meyers said.

Navarro County officials have requested supplies from the state to help with hosting possible evacuees, including sleeping cots, food and water and personal supplies evacuees may need. Those supplies are “standing by” and ready to be trucked to Corsicana should an evacuation appear imminent.

Also being planned for — the evacuation of household pets. Should it be needed, the Navarro County Youth Exposition Center could be utilized, Meyers said. Plans were being drawn up for that possibility Thursday.

Another part of the state’s emergency plan is the possible “contra-flow” of Interstate 45, last seen during Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita. Should a large-scale evacuation of the Texas coast be ordered, all lanes of Interstate 45 would be converted to northbound lanes, starting in the Houston-Galveston area and working north through Navarro County and into Ellis County, Meyers explained. State officials said that order could come as early as Sunday, based on what path Gustav eventually takes.

All of that is still a series of lines on a forecast map — lines that can change by the hour based on the latest satellite data and computer projections. Those projections show a “possible” strike zone stretching from Mississippi to South Texas. Gustav’s move over the warmer Gulf Coast waters could not only alter the path, but strengthen the storm as it approaches the United States.

More conference calls with state emergency management personnel will take several times daily as the storm’s path becomes more defined, and areas at risk more clearly identified.

Texas Governor Rick Perry on Thursday declared a state of disaster in 61 Texas counties including Navarro County. Situated on Interstate 45, one of the primary evacuation routes and a relocation point for Gulf Coast evacuees prompted the inclusion of the county. Perry also called on the White House to issue a federal disaster declaration.

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Bob Belcher may be reached via e-mail at belcher@corsicanadailysun.com

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