Hurricane Harvey has Mississippi agencies on high alert

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A screengrab from the National Weather Service on the morning of August 31 shows areas of the state that are expected to be drenched with rain.

Mississippi agencies, nonprofits and other groups that answer victims’ needs in the face of natural disasters are standing for whatever damage the hurricane-turned-storm named Harvey might bring as it passes through our state.

According to an advisory released early Thursday morning by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center, Harvey is expected to move northeast over the next 48 hours, rolling into northwestern Mississippi by Thursday afternoon and into the western Tennessee Valley Region on Friday. It is expected to hit the Lower Ohio Valley early Saturday before dissipating Saturday afternoon.

This could also be the case in southeast Mississippi, which could see 5 to 10 inches of rain over the next few days, said Greg Flynn, spokesman for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. MEMA has supplied sandbags to some Gulf Coast counties and is working with counties in the Delta to see what they need, Flynn said.

Groups like Salvation Army and United Way are also standing by in case their services are needed in an emergency. Morgan Shiyou, spokeswoman for The Salvation Army Mississippi Gulf Coast, said they have supplies like water, food and clean-up kits on hand both in Mississippi and in the surrounding region.

But a challenge in preparing for the worst is not being sure of what you’ll need until you need it.

Major Gary Sturdivant, who commands the Salvation Army Mississippi Gulf Coast Area, said all its units should be able to handle a natural disaster for the first 72 hours. Salvation branches in Jackson, Florence, Alabama, and the Gulf Coast are ready to serve the Delta with enough resources to last through that time period, Sturdivant said.

The nonprofit can also team up with others in the state depending on victims’ needs. Otherwise, they could deploy to Texas over the next few days.

“Some groups come in as rescue, nourishment shelters, or make physical repairs of people’s homes,” Sturdivant said. “We’re all working together to make sure people are safe and nourished, and can get back to normalcy. This process in Texas can go on for years … Salvation Army has been doing case management since Katrina hit. This disaster will be felt for many, many years.”

Sgt. 1st Class Malcolm McClendon, Army National Guard

An aerial view shows severe flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey in Rockport, Texas, Aug. 28, 2017. Mississippi officials are on the ready to keep similar scenes caused by Harvey’s rains to a minimum.

Meanwhile, United Way of West Central Mississippi is currently focusing its efforts on helping those affected in Houston by collecting donated items such as diapers, wipes, formula, cleaning supplies, nonperishables, hygiene products and water at the Vicksburg Mall, Calvary Baptist Church, and Greater Grove Street Missionary Baptist Church, said Community Impact and Event Coordinator Shannon Royal.

The organization is also eyeing the local weather closely in case their services are needed at home.

“We do know there’s a possibility that we may need to assist others in Mississippi, and if so, we will do all that we can to assist anyone who is in need at any time,” Royal said.

If everything bodes well in Mississippi, Royal said the organization will keep directing its efforts toward Houston.

“We have received so much help in the past all over the U.S. We want to be able to give back as well,” Royal said. “Vicksburg alone has experienced quite a bit of floods in the past, and some of them have been very severe.”

Flynn advises that residents prepare for the worst. He said it’s best to gather enough items to be self-sufficient for three days, suggesting a personal emergency supply kit with nonperishable food, a gallon of water per person per day in each household, and things that may be scarce when businesses are closed in extreme weather conditions, like gasoline.

“Please don’t let your guard down,” Flynn said. “Let this serve as a warning, what we saw in Southeast Texas … We’re just now entering the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season … Be prepared. Have your plan. Really take it seriously.”

MEMA also has released the following information for how Mississippians can donate to relief efforts or volunteer to help:

TO DONATE TO RELIEF EFFORTS:

The most effective way to support disaster survivors in their recovery is to donate money and time to trusted, reputable, voluntary or charitable organizations.

  • Cash donations offer voluntary agencies and faith-based organizations the most flexibility to address urgently developing needs. With cash in hand, these organizations can obtain needed resources nearer to the disaster location. This inflow of cash also pumps money back into the local economy and helps local businesses recover faster.
  • Please do not donate unsolicited goods such as used clothing, miscellaneous household items, medicine, or perishable foodstuffs at this time. When used personal items are donated, the helping agencies must redirect their staff away from providing direct services to survivors in order to sort, package, transport, warehouse, and distribute items that may not meet the needs of disaster survivors.
  • Donate through a trusted organization.  At the national level, many voluntary-, faith- and community-based organizations are active in disasters, and are trusted ways to donate to disaster survivors. Individuals, corporations, and volunteers, can learn more about how to help on the National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (NVOAD) website.
  • In addition to the national members, The Texas Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (Texas VOAD) has a list of vetted disaster relief organizations providing services to survivors.  Texas VOAD represents more than three dozen faith-based, community, nonprofit and non-governmental organizations.

TO PERSONALLY VOLUNTEER IN THE DISASTER AREAS:

The State of Texas is asking volunteers to not self-deploy, as unexpectedly showing up to any of the communities that have been impacted by Hurricane Harvey will create an additional burden for first responders. The National VOAD has also noted the situation may not be conducive to volunteers entering the impacted zone and individuals may find themselves turned away by law enforcement.

  • To ensure volunteer safety, as well as the safety of disaster survivors, volunteers should only go into affected areas with a specific volunteer assignment, proper safety gear, and valid identification.
  • At this time, potential volunteers are asked to register with a voluntary or charitable organization of their choice, many of which are already in Texas and supporting survivors on the ground.
  • The National and Texas VOAD websites are offering links to those who wish to register to volunteer with community- and faith-based organizations working in the field.
  • Most importantly, please be patient. Although the need is great, and desire to help strong, it is important to avoid donating material goods or self-deploying to help until communities are safe and public officials and disaster relief organizations have had an opportunity to assess the damage and identify what the specific unmet needs are.
  • Volunteer generosity helps impacted communities heal from the tragic consequences of disasters, but recovery lasts much longer than today. There will be volunteer needs for many months, and years, after the disaster, so sign up now.