Having tracked across the Gulf of Mexico as a Tropical Storm, Isaac barreled ashore along a wide swath of the northern Gulf Coast last evening as a Category 1 Hurricane. It first made landfall in southeastern Louisiana and that state along with Alabama, Mississippi and Florida will bear the brunt of the slow-moving and potentially lethal storm as it lashes the region with heavy rains and high winds for the next several days.
According to Cathy Gautreaux, executive director of the Louisiana Motor Transport Assn. (LMTA), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a State of Emergency (in effect through Sept. 25) ahead of Isaac making landfall and that several parishes [counties] implemented mandatory and voluntary evacuations before the storm hit.
Gautreaux also pointed out that Federal regulations (49 CFR 390.23) allow the temporary lifting of certain safety regulations for any motor carrier or driver providing direct assistance in relief during a declared emergency.
“This includes easing the HOS regulations for drivers,” she explained. “However, regulations do not allow FMCSA to suspend requirements for CDL, drug and alcohol testing or motor carrier financial responsibility (insurance). This, however, does not exempt any motor carrier from violating any state laws.”
“As in every disaster, the State also issues an emergency order with regard to size and weight, fuel tax, permits, etc,” Gautreaux added. “State officials are in the process of requesting that emergency order for Isaac. We will forward a copy of those emergency declarations to our [LMTA] members as they are issued.”
While coming ashore as “only” a Category 1 event, the specific dynamics of Hurricane Isaac— it is slow-moving, it is spread over a wide swath of land and packing sustained winds of 80 mph—all but guarantee it will deliver a withering and sustained punch to all low-lying areas on the Gulf Coast from Florida to Louisiana before pushing inland and weakening back into a Tropical Storm.
As of this morning, according to a storm update posted by The Weather Channel, “Isaac will continue to move very slowly near the Louisiana coast Wednesday. Since Isaac is moving at a snail's pace, the hurricane will pound the northern Gulf Coast with storm surge flooding, heavy rainfall, strong winds and possible isolated tornadoes through Wednesday.”
The update noted that hurricane warnings remain in effect for portions of the northern Gulf Coast from east of Morgan City, La. to the Mississippi/Alabama border—including New Orleans and Biloxi—and that hurricane watches are posted as far west as Intracoastal City, LA.
Bryan Norcross, hurricane specialist at The Weather Channel, stated in a blog post yesterday that once over land, Isaac’s winds “will be relentless.” He said “strong onshore winds” will hit Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
However, he noted that the track of the storm’s center into Louisiana “will mean the winds farther east won't be perpendicular to the coast, which will keep the storm surge heights a little less that they would have been with a track farther east. Still a maximum of 4 to 8 feet of water above the land is forecast for the Alabama coast, and 3 to 6 feet in the Panhandle. Storm surge flooding is continuing to affect low lying areas in the Florida Peninsula due to the large area covered by the [storm’s] circulation.”
Norcross said the highest storm surge---“ the forecast continues to be 6 to12 feet”-- will be on the Gulf side of southeast Louisiana and in Mississippi. This won't be Katrina, but life-threatening high water will be pushed over the coast…. the onshore winds will keep the water high for an extended period. Low-lying areas inland will be especially dangerous due to flooding rains that can't drain at their normal rate.”
Clearly, Isaac will not be a hit-and-run driver, but will linger in the region,i nflicting more damage than a faster-moving storm would as well as hampering the speed of rescue and recovery efforts by local, state and federal disaster-assistance agencies.
With that scenario in mind, Gov. Bill Graves, president & CEO of the American Trucking Assns. (ATA), advised before Isaac’s arrival that “all drivers, commercial and commuter alike, make good travel decisions. No trip, and no delivery, is worth putting yourself or others in harm’s way. “If you’re advised to evacuate,” he added, “do so in a quick and orderly fashion. As a former [Kansas] governor, I know that officials do not issue evacuation orders lightly, so if you are told to go, it is for a reason.”
The Louisiana Dept. of Transportation and Development (DOTD) has advised citizens they can get the latest updates on real-time traffic and road conditions by using the state’s 511 Traveler Information System.
"DOTD will work closely with local and state police to close roads, as needed," said DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas, P.E. "Motorists are strongly encouraged to access the 511 Traveler Information System to receive up-to-the-minute information on road closures. Knowing road conditions before leaving home can help motorists make critical decisions about their route.”
Louisiana’s voice-activated 511 service is available to most wireless and landline telephone users. The service allows callers to access up-to-date information simply by dialing 511 and saying the route or region about which they are seeking information. Out of-state travelers can call 1-888-ROAD-511 (1-888-762-3511) and information can also be accessed by going to the 511 website: www.511la.org.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant also declared a State of Emergency ahead of Isaac reaching land. “Residents should be frightened because we have issued a State of Emergency,” Bryant said in a statement. “However, I urge individuals and families to finalize their personal preparedness efforts… and know where you will go if you need to evacuate.”
Bryant also authorized the Mississippi National Guard to deploy ten members of its civil support team to coastal counties. He said this team will work with local emergency management agencies to assist with preparedness efforts and will be on hand to transition to full-scale disaster response if necessary.
“We are taking the threat of impact from Isaac seriously, and we are working to ensure that Mississippi is well-prepared.” Bryant added. “Sound preparations will enable us to ramp up our response without losing time if the situation worsens.”
For more information on Isaac, ATA suggests going to Ready.gov or http://www.redcross.org/. For carriers interested in assisting in post-incident relief efforts, ATA recommends accessing the American Logistics Aid Network at http://www.alanaid.org/ or go to trucking.org.
LMTA’s Gautreaux noted that if members of the association she heads “have supplies or services that may be of use to officials preparing and responding Isaac, please register your company with the Louisiana Business Emergency Operations Center” via this website: http://www.labeoc.org/labeoc/welcome.aspx