Hurricane Isaac slams south Mississippi
Published: Thursday, August 30, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 30, 2012 20:08
As Hurricane Isaac made its way towards the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Monday, Hattiesburg residents prepared for gusting winds, possible flooding and widespread power outages. Local grocery stores were packed with people searching for vital necessities such as bottled water, canned goods, gasoline and Little Debbie cakes.
Measures were taken by local officials to prepare the city for the storm, including the University of Southern Mississippi. On Monday, administrative officials announced the closure of the university for Tuesday and Wednesday. Before the storm, the University Police Department and the Physical Plant prepared the campus for the on-coming storm.
According to Chris Crenshaw, director of the Physical Plant, construction equipment was secured, outside trash cans were emptied and dead or loose branches in trees were trimmed to prevent power outages. Certain parts of campus are notoriously susceptible to flash floods, so sandbags were placed in front of buildings to prevent water damage. Based on reports issued to the Physical Plant, no parts of campus suffered from flooding, and USM did not lose power.
“We learned a lot from Hurricane Katrina,” Crenshaw said. “We were much better prepared for Isaac, and though we may have some issues, it won’t be to the magnitude of what it could have been without preparation.”
Preparations were also made to keep on-campus students safe in and around their residence halls. Curfews were set from 12:01 a.m. Wednesday through noon on Wednesday. During this time, students were to refrain from “loitering outside or walking freely around the campus,” according to the campus-wide Eagle Alert.
“We are extremely pleased with students’ response to the curfew,” Crenshaw said. “They managed themselves appropriately, and we thank them.”
Though campus was closed on Tuesday, the Fresh Food Company and Seymour’s remained open. On Wednesday, however, boxed lunches were provided to students who live in residence halls. According to Eagle Dining, 3,000 boxed meals were provided for both breakfast and lunch, and 3,000 hot meals were delivered for dinner. The hot meals consisted of hamburgers, spaghetti, vegetables and cookies.
“The students actually seemed pretty excited to have meals delivered to their room,” Bruce McVeagh, director of operations for Aramark at USM, said. “We have a great emergency action plan and team. It ran very smooth, and it was well received.”
“We didn’t want to put students in a position where they went to class on Tuesday morning and then had to face unsafe weather conditions that afternoon,” vice president of student affairs Joe Paul said. “The storm took a strange course of events, however, and its speeds were reduced, making Tuesday a calm, peaceful day.”
Aubrey K. Lucas, interim USM president, further explained the closure.
“We made our decision on the best information possible,” Lucas said.
That information stated that the storm would impact Hattiesburg around noon on Tuesday and last until Wednesday, leaving Thursday with light rain.
“Obviously, it had a mind of its own and didn’t follow the path we thought it should,” Lucas said. “So yes, we could have had classes on Tuesday, but we didn’t know it at the time.”
Many students were angered by the decision to resume classes on Thursday. On Wednesday, students flooded the university’s Facebook page with mostly negative comments, many of which complained about returning to Hattiesburg from coastal areas.
“If you commute daily from the Gulf Coast, then unfortunately you are at a disadvantage,” Lucas said. “However, most of our students that are from the coast live somewhere in the Hattiesburg area, and they chose to go home...knowing that the coast would get the brunt of it.”
No decision has been made on whether or not classes will be rescheduled for make-up days.
As far as destruction, Hattiesburg didn’t receive an excessive amount of damage, but areas on the Gulf Coast continue to flood. The Southern Miss Gulf Coast campus received little water damage from high waters. A decision to reopen its campus has not yet been made.