By JD Sumner

TIFTON -- Area residents need to be prepared for tropical storms and hurricanes during the summer, according to Red Cross officials.

Tift County, along with the six other counties that encompass the Coastal Plains Red Cross Chapter, could be affected both directly or indirectly by any nasty weather that comes along during the 2003 hurricane season.

"I-75 and Highway 82 are the major evacuation routes in our area, so Tifton naturally is the place to come in the event of a hurricane or tropical storm," said Laurie Vitale, executive director of the Coastal Plain Chapter of the American Red Cross.

The local Red Cross chapter and emergency management agency work in conjunction to help area residents be as prepared as possible for bad weather.

Faye Duckworth, director of the Tift County Emergency Management Agency and county fire coordinator, said that preparation ahead of time is the key to surviving any storm.

Families need to form a plan of what they would do in any kind of bad weather situation, she said. Getting an emergency kit together that includes extra batteries, food, and water is important, Duckworth said.

In the event of a major storm, the Red Cross and emergency agencies in Atlanta would pass along information to each chapter on how many shelters to open and how to best deal with each situation.

According to Red Cross officials, the best shelters in the community are at churches and Abraham Baldwin College. Vitale said that ABAC is the only shelter where bilingual services are offered -- a big asset to a community and area that has a large Hispanic population.

Shelters are approved by the American Red Cross and are opened depending upon the directives of the regional offices.

"We can't just open up a shelter. We can only open a shelter when the people in Atlanta tell us to," Vitale said.

Thanks to the new weather station in Turner County, area residents now have the capabilities to have ample warning when bad weather is in the area.

"That tower is so much better than the old one in Poulan," Duckworth said. "If people have their radios, they will be much better prepared for any storms in the area."

Despite the distance Tifton is from the coastline, residents are still susceptible to damaging winds, lighting, rain and hail that accompany hurricanes and tropical storms.

"When I used to live in Charlotte (N.C.), which is 250 miles inland, Hurricane Hugo struck and everyone from the coastline came to town," Vitale said. "Hugo ended up running right over us and power was out in our area for three weeks.

"So people need to realize that storms can move anywhere and be just as bad as the ones that hit the coastline."

For more information about building an emergency preparedness kit or what to do in an emergency, contact the American Red Cross at 382-3133 or the Emergency Management office at 386-7910.

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