City officials: We’re prepared for Irma, just in case

Published 8:19 pm Thursday, September 7, 2017

“We’re as prepared as we can be.”

That’s the sentiment city of Atmore officials have at present just in case Hurricane Irma turns toward the Gulf Coast and shifts north in the coming days.

As of Thursday night, Irma was spinning over the Dominican Republic west toward Cuba with Category 5-like winds. The wind speed went as high as 185 miles per hour Wednesday, and slowed to 180 earlier today.

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According to the National Weather Service’s National Hurricane Center, Irma is projected to make landfall in Florida on Saturday and ride up the length of the Sunshine State into Georgia, hitting Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina late Sunday evening and early Monday morning.

Just in case the hurricane heads toward Atmore, city department heads met Wednesday morning to get on the same page about needed supplies, clean up and other necessities.

Thirteen years ago, Hurricane Ivan, a Category 3 storm, surprised residents in Atmore and caused the most damage on Sept. 16, 2004, as it leveled several trees and destroyed many homes and buildings.

The city has learned a lot from Ivan.

“It was very educational for us,” West Escambia Utilities Manager Kenny Smith said.

Smith said the city has 24 generators for utilities and trucks with fuel tanks in case the storm was to hit, adding that all of the pumping stations and water towers have generators so residents won’t be without water.

As for the fire department, Chief Ronald Peebles said the meeting on Wednesday was held to prompt departments to get ready just in case the storm hits Atmore.

“We’re as prepared as we can be,” Peebles said. “We were starting to get our things prepared, which was gassing up all of our vehicles and making sure our generators are up and running, and making sure they’re up to par.”

Peebles said an organizational chart set up for the city indicates section operators and who is in charge of what action.

“We learned a lot from Ivan,” he said. “When Ivan got us, we were surprised.”

Peebles said after Ivan, the city got to work making sure departments such as the fire department has a generator and to make sure communication is up and running.

“That’s one thing we talked about is our communications, which is vital,” he said. “Our first priority will be clearing a way to the hospital, and Highways 21 and 31 so we can move people from here to wherever.”

Police Chief Chuck Brooks echoed those priorities.

“Basically, I’ll have extra officers in the event there is a storm that comes through,” Brooks said. “We’ll have extra officers out. It starts between now and the time the storm hits (if it does hit).

“We’re monitoring the traffic patterns (in case evacuees come here),” he said. “We’ll basically have officers stationed on Main Street at the intersection of Highway 31. We’ll also have somebody at Ridgeley and Church Streets, along with Trammell Street.”

Both Peebles and Brooks said their departments have the right equipment in case the hurricane was to hit the city.

“We’ve got generators to run red lights, heavy equipment to get trees out of the roadway,” Brooks said. “Basically, the unknown is when the storm comes through. We don’t know until something happens to react. We want everybody, if they have the ability to evacuate, to get out and make plans to do that.”

Brooks also wanted to warn residents about people who might take advantage of others during the recovery effort.

“In the past, people have come in claiming to help,” he said. “They’ll charge the people they help for their services. Be mindful of people trying to take advantage of you. If they don’t have a city business license, they will go to jail.”

For hurricane preparedness tips, visit