Hurricane shelter policy not so bad

Published 10:36 pm Thursday, June 18, 2009

In preparation for the 2009 hurricane season, Gov. Bob Riley announced that Alabama’s hurricane shelters would be reserved largely for Alabamians.

That news even made The Weather Channel.

It is a change in policy, but not an altogether unreasonable one.

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With the National Weather Service predicting nine to 14 named storms, four to seven of them hurricanes and maybe as many as three “major” events, state and local governments and various agencies recently attended a workshop on action to take when a storm approaches.

One obvious option would be to evacuate the coast. But where would coastal residents go? That was the dilemma Riley faced.

If a storm approached Louisiana and Mississippi, as Hurricane Gustav did last year, and if evacuees poured into other states, as those fleeing Gustav did, they might wind up in Alabama shelters. If so, where would Alabamians go if another storm followed hard on the heels of the first and we were in its path?

Each state must take care of its own.

Mississippi has recently built additional shelters in its southern counties and says it will not need Alabama’s help.

In Alabama, schools and community colleges have been identified as shelters. And in some communities inland from the coast, churches and local agencies stand ready to take in the overflow.

It’s hoped that Alabama’s example, and that of this state’s western neighbor, will inspire other states in the region to make similar preparations.

However, the reality of weathering such storms doesn’t mean evacuees should be left in harm’s way. Yes, it’s true that Alabama evacuees will have first claim on the state’s shelters and those from others states will be encouraged to seek assistance in their states. But if there is another storm the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina, and if the human tragedy that followed repeats itself, Alabama cannot, and should not, turn those people away.

It will be a hard call for emergency management officials to make. But we trust that they will make wise choices-not as cold-hearted bureaucrats following the rules, but as compassionate people who first and foremost want to help others in need.’

—The Anniston Star