All eyes in the southeastern United States are on Hurricane Irma, as the Category 5 storm continues to churn and strengthen in the Atlantic Ocean. With winds of 180 mph, Irma is predicted to make an impact on the southern tip of Florida and could potentially enter the Gulf of Mexico by the weekend.
Irma is slated to be the second major hurricane to make landfall within two weeks. Hurricane Harvey struck the coast of southern Texas near Rockport on Aug. 25 as a Category 4 storm. It dumped more than 42 inches of rain over Houston and left 42 people dead.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday. Many South Mississippians are already preparing in case Irma moves into the Gulf of Mexico, and officials say residents should get supplies ready and expect rising fuel prices.
Fuel prices could rise
Harvey also shut down offshore gas and oil production facilities in the Gulf, driving gas prices up in Mississippi almost 30 cents per gallon.
GasBuddy.com reports the state’s average price for regular unleaded gasoline on Tuesday was $2.45 per gallon. The website also reported gas prices as “stable.”
That could change, though, should Irma hit Florida. Although gas and oil production is getting back on schedule in the Gulf, fuel analysts say the storm could force prices to increase.
“Every state has seen average gas prices rise, Texas saw shortages at hundreds of stations — its been one of the most challenging weeks faced in years,” Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy, said in a news release. “Until Texas can recover from Harvey, gasoline prices will likely continue to remain elevated.”
“While it may be weeks or longer before all refineries are back online, we now turn our attention to Hurricane Irma. With the Colonial Pipeline having shut down last week due to a lack of products, Florida and the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic may be a touch and go area for gasoline.”
Run on supplies
Most models have Hurricane Irma making a turn to the north, but there’s a possibility it could enter the Gulf, placing South Mississippi at risk. And with the 12th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina fresh on the minds of many on the Coast, some South Mississippi residents are already taking precautionary measures.
Hardware stores across the Coast are seeing an increase in sales of hurricane-preparation items.
“We have seen an increase in the sale of gas cans and flashlights and batteries — emergency supplies,” said Gulfport Lowe’s manager Marisa Laney.
How to stay connected during a disaster or major hurricane
- Keep your mobile phone battery charged. High winds and flooding can knock out power for hours or even days.
- Keep extra batteries or an external charger available so you can recharge your device once it runs out of juice. You may also consider buying a charger that has a hand crankand can be used to power smartphones and other devices.
- Include wall chargers, car chargers and adapters for your phone in your emergency kit.
- Keep your mobile devices, accessories and chargers dry. The biggest threat to your device during a hurricane is water. Keep it safe from the elements by storing it in a "dry bag" or some other type of protective covering, like an Otterbox phone cover.
- Dim the background light on your screen and turn off background data applications as well as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth services to preserve battery life.
- Program your smartphone to receive emergency alerts. Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEAs) are free wireless notifications that are delivered to your mobile device by local/national public safety organizations.
- Program all of your emergency contact numbers and e-mail addresses into your mobile phone. Numbers should include the police department, fire station and hospital, as well as family members. Also, keep a written copy of this information in case your phone runs out of juice, but you're able to use someone else's device.
- Forward your home number to your mobile number in the event of an evacuation.
- Backup your contacts, photos and other information on your phone to a cloud storage service.
- Download weather applications and alerts to get forecasts and severe storm warnings.
- Download apps and subscribe to alerts from the American Red Cross and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
- Take pictures of your home and belongings before the storm. During and after the storm, document any damage you see so you can share it with your insurance company.
- Set up location-tracking technology on your phone and your loved ones' devices, so you're able to track each other if you're separated during an emergency.
Wireless carriers also offer these suggestions to keep in mind during evacuations and in the immediate aftermath of a disaster when network resources will likely be taxed.
- Text instead of call. During an emergency, text messages may go through more quickly than voice calls because they require fewer network resources.
- Be prepared for high call volume. During an emergency, many people are trying to use their phones at the same time. The increased call volume may create network congestion, leading to "fast busy" signals on your wireless phone or a slow dial tone on your landline phone. If this happens, hang up, wait several seconds and then try the call again. This allows your original call data to clear the network before you try again.
- Keep non-emergency calls to a minimum and limit your calls to the most important ones.
- Use social media sparingly. While there are many stories of people posting on Twitter or Facebook asking for help during Hurricane Harvey when they couldn't get through on 911, federal emergency officials warn that people shouldn't rely on social media for help. First responders simply don't have time or resources to monitor all posts. And your request could be lost in the noise.