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Officials stressing hurricane readiness

ALBANY, Ga. -- With hurricane season opening today, officials with the Southwest Public Health District are reminding residents that this area of the state can be impacted by tropical weather.

Hurricane season starts today and runs through Nov. 30. For this season, experts at Colorado State University are predicting as many as 15 named storms, including eight hurricanes. Accuweather is calling for as many as 18 named storms, including five hurricanes.

During the 2009 season, experts initially predicted 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. Nine tropical storms formed in the Atlantic, with Tropical Storm Claudette being the only one to make landfall. There were three hurricanes, two of which were major -- Bill and Ida.

While the direct impacts aren't felt as much in Southwest Georgia, the region is not immune to the influences of a storm.

"There is the potential, should something come in the Gulf, that we could get inland flooding," explained Julie Miller, emergency preparedness director for the district. "There is also the potential for tornadic activity and high winds."

Families are encouraged to keep at least three to five days worth of nonperishable food items and water on hand as well as any other supplies that might be needed in an emergency.

Important papers can be placed in sealing plastic freezer and sandwich bags. Prescription medications, baby supplies, personal hygiene items, hearing aid batteries, items for special medical needs and a battery operated radio should be included along with the other items in an emergency kit.

"A kit could serve people well in any situation," Miller said.

Residents should also remember to make arrangements for those that are elderly and bedridden, or have some kind of disability.

"Make sure you help them so they know what to do," Miller advised.

Many shelters do not take pets, so special arrangements may need to be made for animals, Miller said.

"The mass majority of shelters don't take pets," she said. "We are continuing to work on (this issue) because there are complex questions that come up."

There is a shelter in Thomas County that is able to accept pets. The Humane Society also assists in arrangements for animals, Miller said.

People are encouraged to pay attention to local media reports and heed evacuation orders.

"People need to be aware of local media outlets," Miller said. "They need to make sure they know local information and that they (media outlets) are a source of information should their area have a need to respond."

If at all possible, residents are also encouraged to refrain from using shelters at all.

"When you open up a shelter, it's a mass of people," Miller explained. "They are not designed to be comfortable; they are just meant to take care of you."

Establishing a communications plan would also be beneficial in such a situation, Miller said.

"If your cell phone is not working, do you know how to reach that college student on the other side of the state? There may be times you don't have that mode of communication," she said.

As little as six inches of water can cause a person to lose control of a vehicle. When water covers the road, hazards such as ditches or downed power lines may be hidden from view.