Coronavirus will have major impact on hurricane planning and timelines

Coronavirus will have major impact on hurricane planning and timelines

LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) -This hurricane season will be one like no other due to the coronavirus.

Emergency officials at the state and local level say people need to make some adjustments to their planning, including the possibility of leaving earlier than usual if there’s an evacuation.

In 2005, when evacuees from New Orleans sought refuge after hurricane Katrina, people were in extremely close quarters where they sheltered in the Lake Charles Civic Center. But in these days of COVID-19 and social distancing-- such closeness would not be allowed.

Plus, if a hurricane aims toward Cameron and Calcasieu, shelters in lake Charles are vulnerable to storm surge, as past storms show. So, people are sent north--such as to Alexandria.

This year, emergency officials say people need to consider the virus as they plan. Calcasieu Emergency Planning Director Dick Gremillion urges as much self-sufficiency as possible.

“People really need to be doing their research on friends and family who live out of town in terms of so they would have a place to go to. A lot of people are going to make hotel reservations early. Family planning is really going to be critical this year,” he said.

Because of the pandemic-- emergency actions will likely start sooner because COVID will complicate transportation for those who have none. A bus that held 30 last year might carry far fewer.

“In some cases, that capacity has been reduced down to almost a third of what we had originally, so it’s going to mean more trips and even more vehicles to make those trips,” he said.

And what about shelters and social distancing.

“Currently, we figure about 40 square feet per person in a typical shelter. That number may now be as high as 105 square feet which again, reduces the capacity of a shelter down to maybe one third or a little bit more of its original capacity,” said Gremillion.

And Gremillion says people who must go to a shelter should pack early and include things like face masks and hand sanitizer, toilet paper and cleaning supplies.

Mike Steele is with GOHSEP, the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. He says decisions are made as an emergency begins to unfold.

"This year could be much different when you throw in this health emergency you're talking about issues with space. And it could involve everything from transportation to shelter space. You may need just a tremendous amount of PPE to deal with those aspects as well," said Steele.

The state will have shelters, even possibly in other states if needed, but he says plans evolve as does the threat. With social distancing, he says hotels would be a good option, but...

"We cannot say we're going to turn on some type of service like that, if the event doesn't call for it. Our job is to kind of analyze the threat we're facing and see where the needs are and find a way to meet those needs," said Steele.

So, especially this year, officials urge people to stay informed, alert and prepared to take responsibility for their own needs and safety--as best they can.

For more information on hurricane planning click here.

Also the Calcasieu Medical Reserve Corps needs volunteers.

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