The day that South Mississippi residents have dreaded since Aug. 29 has arrived - the start of a new hurricane season.
State and local emergency officials have always preached preparedness, but this year, they say, it's even more important.
With debris still on the ground from Hurricane Katrina and thousands of residents living in not-so-sturdy travel trailers, preparation has never been more crucial.
"People now understand what can potentially happen," said Mike Womack, deputy director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency. "I don't think we'll have trouble getting people to evacuate."
Last year's 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes broke a record set in 1933, but experts at the National Hurricane Center in Miami believe this year won't be quite as busy. Last week, forecasters predicted 16 named storms, with as many as 10 becoming hurricanes.
For the past two months, officials have been encouraging residents to develop an evacuation plan, make copies of their important papers, stockpile food and water and prepare their homes for hurricane season, which begins today and runs through Nov. 30.
Gene Street said no one has to tell him twice. Street and his wife, Pat, lost their beachfront home in Gulfport during Katrina and now the only things on their lot are dirt and a FEMA trailer.
"We already evacuated from a thunderstorm a few weeks ago," he said. "We didn't have to wait for hurricane season."
Street said he always prepared for hurricane season, keeping plenty of water, nonperishable food and fuel on hand, but he knows it's even more important now.
If another storm, no matter the size, threatens South Mississippi, they will head north to Crystal Springs, where Street's mother-in-law lives.
"I don't know how anybody could not be prepared," he said. "If you're not going to prepare, you better not stay here."
Butch Loper, emergency management director in Jackson County, wishes everyone would adopt Street's attitude.
"The biggest question is if people have prepared themselves," he said. "I think as a whole they have, but there are people who aren't prepared. Sooner or later, people have to realize the government is not going to continue bailing them out."
State and local governments believe they are ready for this season. Most agencies have satellite phones, in addition to cell phones and radios for communication; officials have identified shelters throughout the state that can be used if a storm heads this way.
FEMA is bringing food, water and equipment this week to warehouses in Hattiesburg, Purvis and Meridian, Womack said.
The state conducted a survey recently to see how many people will need transportation to evacuate. County officials are identifying their addresses and arranging transportation.
Womack said local school buses likely will be used to bring people to central locations within each county. Then, school buses from other parts of the state will transport residents to shelters that are out of harm's way, likely north of Interstate 20.
Because of the debris and the number of people leaving, mandatory evacuations likely will be called sooner, possibly 72 hours before landfall.
Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr have been meeting with department heads regularly to discuss storm preparation. Both cities have comprehensive plans that include pre-staging vehicles, fuel and other supplies in the event of a storm.
"We feel confident that if a storm of any magnitude heads in our direction, we will be better prepared than we were last year," said Kelly Jakubik, spokeswoman for Gulfport.
The Atlantic storm names for the 2006 hurricane season:
The National Hurricane Center has named Atlantic storms since 1953. In 1979 men's names were added, and they alternate with women's names. The names are reused every six years unless a storm is so catastrophic the name is retired.
Names retired from the 2005 season are Katrina, Dennis, Rita, Stan and Wilma.
- NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER