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Sunday, August 28, 2005

Biloxi mayor Q&A 

Biloxi mayor A.J. Holloway did this Q&A for the city's Web site at 8:45 tonight: Q. What is the status of things in Biloxi at the moment? A. We have a fire department of about 200 firefighters, and two-thirds of those people -- two of our three shifts -- are on duty now, and our police department has also ramped up, and we have plenty of officers patrolling the streets. There's going to come a point in time when we'll have to pull our people off the streets. With the 9 p.m. curfew, we don't expect to see anyone on the streets, and our police will be stopping and questioning any one they come across. This curfew is in effect until further notice, because the latest reports we have are to expect winds at 75 mph starting around 6 Monday morning in Biloxi, and gradually increasing to as high as 140 mph. The storm surge would be as high as 24 to 28 feet, the forcasters are saying. Q. What has been one of the most important messages you've been communicating to Biloxi residents? A. We've worked throughout the day today doing the things we needed to be doing -- staying on message and warning people to evacuate, and making sure they knew the severity of this storm. We actually started this process years ago with our annual storm preparedness mailouts. Biloxi has been through hurricanes through the years. How is this threat different? We're facing the worst case of a worst case scenario. We went through Camille 36 years ago this month, but we have so much more to lose these days -- $5 billion worth of investment along our waterfront, 15,000 new jobs since 1992, and growing numbers of visitors each year. In fact, we've seen the number of visitors to our city grow from a million a year to between 10 and 12 million a year now. At the same time, we are better prepared today to deal with storms than at any other time in our history. Q. How do you think the floating casino barges will fair along Biloxi's shoreline? A. Casino mooring systems are designed to withstand winds of 155 and a tidal surge of 15 feet, so this will be a huge test, considering we're now being told winds could get as high as 140 mph sometime Monday and a storm surge as high as 28 feet. Q. What happens next? A. Right now, we're doing what we can on the streets, and we're also looking to the next step, and that's the aftermath. Heavy equipment has been pre-positioned around the city to have it ready to clear streets. We worked with FEMA a few months ago and we already have a debris-removal contactor in place, and we expect him to hit the ground running once this storm passes. We expect major damage. We expect power to be interrupted. We expect to have a lot of challenges, but we also expect -- and we know -- that the people of Biloxi have been survivors for 300 years now and we're going to survive this. Three public shelters are operating in Biloxi at this time -- at public schools. About 1,100 people are in those shelters, and one of the locations, Biloxi Junior High School, has room for a few hundred more, so we're OK as far as capacity. People need to stay where they are at this point, and continue to monitor the news reports. We're going to get through this.

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Don Hammack

Don Hammack is a staff writer for the Sun Herald. He can be reached at KatrinaSunHerald@aol.com.

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Sara Greer is a news assistant for the Sun Herald.


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