NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The state and city of New Orleans want to be ready if Irma's path changes and the mega-storm becomes a threat to Louisiana. But given the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, the contra-flow and evacuation plans being discussed would not involve sending potential evacuees from Louisiana onto 1-10 into Houston.
A table-top hurricane exercise was held in Baton Rouge Tuesday morning.
"You're putting an awful lot of eggs in that basket of forecast if you don't go through the exercises, if you don't plan and prepare for this eventuality, and besides that it's a very active season in the tropics," said Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Edwards, Mayor Mitch Landrieu, military representatives and emergency planners met at the headquarters for the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, or GOHSEP, for a tabletop hurricane exercise.
"To just try to game out what you would do if this storm took a different path then what you expected," Landrieu said.
As we move deeper into hurricane season, a time when the tropics tend to intensify, the state is facing new challenges in its planning. Because of the Harvey destruction in Texas and Irma's threat to Florida, sending Louisiana residents in either direction is not ideal.
"Now we have limited capacity to shelter our people in Texas or to move evacuees through Texas," Edwards said. "We do another exercise today to make sure that we are planning in the eventuality we receive a hurricane that we know how we're going to evacuate and where those evacuation routes are going to take people, what changes we need to make with respect to sheltering or other assets."
"We haven't been in this position before with one state to west and another to the east being in play. That can only mean one thing: It can mean that you will have to go north," Landrieu said.
"Evacuation routes almost certainly will not include I-10 going into Texas," Edwards said.
The city's drainage system, which has been impaired, is faring better, according to city leaders. Still, with a storm like Irma, concerns about rainfall seem to pale in comparison to the storm's strength.
"Every day we get stronger, and soon we'll be back to in a better place than we have been in a very long time," Landrieu said. "This storm has nothing to do with pumps. Once you get to a Category 3, 4 or 5, it doesn't really have anything to do with drainage capacity…It's not where the storm protection system was designed to protect against."
For New Orleans, if a Category 3 storm threatens, the city will issue a mandatory evacuation.
"Whatever is in its way is going to be hurt really, really badly, so that's what the people of New Orleans have to be planning for," Landrieu said of Irma.
FEMA is currently focused on helping the people of Texas and has a huge commitment there. Gov. Edwards said Louisiana has storm-related contracts in place that do not involve FEMA.
"You're always concerned about that because that is a huge storm, but we have good relationships, good communication coordination with FEMA. It isn't always just about FEMA however. We have contracts, state contracts, with certain vendors that have contracts with other states, including Texas, and so to make sure that we can get all of the assets that we need irrespective of FEMA is a concern and one of the things we exercised here today. And we're making contact with all of those contractors again to make sure that they are in a posture where they can respond as they're obligated to do in the contract," Edwards said.
"What's difficult about this storm is that it's going to turn, but if it doesn't turn, it doesn't give us a lot of time," said Landrieu.
"I don't want people out there panicking. We're going to go through the next several days and see what Irma does, and we'll make our decisions based upon what its capacity is to do harm to us and forecast says it is likely to do," added the governor.