BATON ROUGE -- Louisiana officials are looking at Hurricane Irma with the destruction of Hurricane Harvey still fresh on their minds.
The powerful Atlantic hurricane strengthened to a Category 5 storm with winds blowing at 185 mph. Right now, meteorologists expect the storm to curve north to Florida or the East Coast, but a meeting was held today in Louisiana to determine how we would evacuate if necessary.
“We had a table top exercise this afternoon,” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said. “To just kind of game out, what you would do if this storm took a different path than what you expected.”
Irma is expected to move through the islands Tuesday night as a category 5 storm as it moves northwest. The storm is expected to maintain its power until it passes most of the islands, but weaken to a category 4 storm as it approaches Florida.
Few models show the storm coming to Louisiana, but if it does, New Orleans would most likely evacuate.
“Our historical plans post Katrina have been if anything approximating a category 3 comes, we’re going to do a mandatory evacuation,” Landrieu said. “I would encourage people to get prepared for whatever might come our way. If for example, we’re in a situation where we would shelter in place, you need to have as much water and other things that you need. In the event that we have to evacuate, you need to know where you’re going to evacuate to.”
Normal evacuation plans may change if Irma comes to Louisiana. Texas is still recovering from Hurricane Harvey and states to the east of Louisiana may feel the effects of Hurricane Irma as well if it enters the Gulf.
“If you can’t go to the left and you can’t go to the right and you can only go one way,” Landrieu said. “The governor is working right now with the state police and all the parish presidents on developing a contraflow plan that will take people north.”
Governor John Bel Edwards said I-10 going into Texas will be completely off the table for evacuating.
“We would take that traffic that would typically go on I-10 west into Texas and move it north on I-49 and then they can go into Texas from the Shreveport area,” Edwards said.
He emphasized though, that all these plans are just a precaution. For now, Louisiana is not in the storm’s path.
“We’re going to go through the next several days and see what Irma does and we’ll make our decisions based upon what it’s capacity is to do harm to us and what the forecast says that it’s likely to do,” Edwards said.”