BATON ROUGE, La. – A mock evacuation that was supposed to be part of a two-day statewide hurricane preparedness drill was canceled after a misunderstanding about who had jurisdiction over a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer park.
The two-day statewide drill that began Tuesday was aimed at avoiding the chaos that followed last year's deadly Hurricane Katrina, which hit the state Aug. 29 and killed more than 1,000 people. The drill is expected to continue Wednesday.
The mock evacuation was to take place in the state's largest FEMA trailer park in Baker, 10 miles from Baton Rouge. The park has more than 500 camper-style travel trailers that house about 1,500 people displaced by Katrina.
Officials are concerned about the safety of travel trailer residents in rough winds. There are more than 200,000 people statewide living in unfinished homes and mobile trailers.
But the Baker evacuation was canceled because of an apparent communication breakdown, said JoAnne Moreau, director of the East Baton Rouge Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.
"We were unable to get any information from the state or federal government on what policies or procedures were for evacuating those sites — whose jurisdiction it was," Moreau said. "We're very disappointed we didn't get to work with the people who live on the trailer site."
After the parish canceled the drill, FEMA asked park management to drive around the park with bullhorns and simulate an evacuation notice, according to Tony Robinson, response and recovery director for FEMA Region 6, which includes Louisiana.
Baker Police Chief Sid Gautreaux said that evacuating the people in the trailers is a problem because residents are not allowed to have land-based telephone lines, their cell phones do not have good signals and a majority of them do not have transportation.
In New Orleans, dozens of make-believe evacuees boarded evacuation buses while state and federal officials in Baton Rouge planned to reroute traffic and call up the National Guard as a fictitious "Hurricane Alicia" swirled in the Gulf of Mexico.
As the drills got underway, "Alicia" was less than two days away after taking a somewhat erratic and unpredictable path in the Gulf of Mexico and building to dangerous Category 3 strength.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco threw officials at the state Office of Emergency Preparedness in Baton Rouge a curve — adding a scenario in which a nuclear power plant north of Baton Rouge caught fire, forcing the closure of U.S Highway 61 as an evacuation route.
Bar-coded wrist bands and computers will help officials keep track of evacuees.
Last year, as Hurricane Katrina approached, thousands of New Orleans' poor were left behind because they had no transportation, could not afford to leave or did not know where to go. The Louisiana Superdome and the convention center became shelters of last resort where thousands sweltered for days, suffering through shortages of food and water.
Mayor Ray Nagin has said there will be no shelters in the city this time.
Scientists predict the 2006 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins June 1 and runs through November, could produce 16 named storms, including six major hurricanes.