As of Friday, The Phillips County Office of Emergency Management is on full alert as is emergency officials across the state anticipate Tropical Storm Gustav as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico.

By MICHELE PAGE
The Daily World

As of Friday, The Phillips County Office of Emergency Management is on full alert as is emergency officials across the state anticipate Tropical Storm Gustav as it heads into the Gulf of Mexico.  The National Weather Service predicted that Gustav would gain category three hurricane status with sustained winds of up to 100 mph.
“This storm could affect the coast anywhere from Texas to Florida and have impacts further inland,” said the NWS Prediction Center.
Michael Burchett, director of the PCOEM, said the status of local responders was standby and that the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management (ADEM) issued a statewide alert in preparation of a possible hurricane hitting Louisiana.  On Friday, Louisiana issued a state of emergency and called in the National Guard.
“We’re kind of on hold in case something happens,” Burchett commented Friday.
The ADEM is assembling emergency response and disaster teams ahead of the storm’s anticipated landfall.
Burchett explained that if evacuees come to Phillips County seeking refuge preparations were needed, depending on the number of people.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Louisiana coastline. Thousands sought refuge in Arkansas.  While Gustav arrives on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, which was the costliest and one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States, residents in Louisiana are not taking any chances and have sought refuge in Arkansas.  Most hotels in southern Arkansas have no rooms and are sold out as Louisiana residents flee the coast.
Burchett said that the ADEM and the Arkansas Emergency Management Association held a conference last week.  During the conference emergency personnel at a state level were pulled from the conference to prepare. 
Dave Maxwell, director of the ADEM, said Fort Smith would be able to assist 4,000 Louisiana evacuees. He added that an agreement was recently made with state officials. During Hurricane Katrina Fort Smith housed 12,000 Louisianans.
Burchett said that if a large number of evacuees sought refuge in the county and stressed Phillips County resources, the county judge would possibly issue a declaration allowing the PCOEM to offer a helping hand.
“We’d help get hotels, help churches, open shelters and feed people,” he said.
“If we only get 10 people then that’s not enough for the declaration,” commented Burchett.
“I remember this from three years ago.  I worked that whole weekend, 13 to 14 hours a day,” replied Burchett.
Burchett said the developing situation was a wait-and-see situation because Gustav’s path could change.
“We have to keep monitoring and watching,” he said.
Pre-disaster teams from the area have headed to the Gulf Coast and the PCOEM plans exercises for other disasters, such as tornados, terrorism and chemical and biological agents this week.