Smith County declared disaster area ahead of Gustav hit, orders issued

Smith County officials say they're expecting torrential rains and floods across Smith County, and want residents to be prepared. "Heavy rainfall can occur hundreds of miles away from the center of the storm, causing severe flooding. Storms, tornadoes and heavy flooding can occur several days after a hurricane makes landfall as the storm system moves inland. We urge citizens to stay tuned for emergency weather alerts and to be cautious," said Smith County Fire Marshal Jim Seaton.

Smith County Judge Joel Baker has filed an official emergency proclamation with state and federal agencies declaring a local state of disaster for Smith County based upon the threat of severe damage to our infrastructure and property here in Smith County.

Judge Joel Baker said, "I have determined that extraordinary measures must be taken to provide shelter for people and animals displaced by Hurricane Gustav and that equally extraordinary measures will probably be necessary to protect and/or rehabilitate property in Smith County; therefore, this declaration is our official notice to state and federal agencies that we will seek assistance from state and federal emergency management agencies."

Smith County Road Administrator Doug Nicholson says the emergency call-out crews are on stand-by and county bulk fuel tanks have been filled to provide fuel for emergency responders and law enforcement. Nicholson urges rural Smith County residents to heed all rising water warning signs and barricades.  If a road is covered by water, residents should not attempt to cross it.  Rushing water can quickly undermine pavement and cause sinkholes to form rapidly.  One foot of water can float a vehicle; therefore, residents are urged not to take a chance crossing flooded roadways.

The commissioners are also asking residents to report flooded roads, blocked roads, downed power lines and any road washouts immediately by calling 9-1-1.  The dispatchers will then alert emergency call-out crews.  The County will be erecting barricades and assessing damages as quickly as possible, and alerting citizens through the local media.

"Please do not put yourself and other citizens in danger by moving barricades.  They signal danger and mean that the roadway is impassable.  A sign that says 'Do not cross' is an order, not a suggestion," said Commissioner JoAnn Fleming. / Cathryn Khalil, news producer