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Last Updated: Sunday, 4 September 2005, 10:09 GMT 11:09 UK
'You always prepare for the worst'
By Richard Allen Greene
BBC News, Hancock County, Mississippi

Everyone agrees that the Hancock County Emergency Operations Center should not flood.

A woman sits in the rubble of a building in Hancock County, MS
Katrina left a trail of destruction through Hancock County
In fact, Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) maps show it would not flood even in a category five storm, the very strongest of hurricanes.

Katrina flooded it.

Brian Adam is the director of emergency operations for Hancock County, which lies on Mississippi's Gulf coast between Biloxi and the Louisiana border.

He was working at the centre on Monday when the hurricane hit - although, like many people who lived through it, five days later he could not say for sure what day of the week it had been when Katrina blew through.

He never considered evacuating the centre, he said, even though he started getting reports 48 hours before the storm hit that it was going to be worse than anything Mississippi had seen before.

Water breaks through

"This is where our centre has been for years," Mr Adam said.

Brian Adam
If you feel something bad is going to happen, you want yourself identified
Brian Adam
Hancock County Emergency Operations Center
"It has never flooded. We didn't get any water here in 1969," he said, recalling Camille, the region's previous worst hurricane.

So Mr Adam and his staff - 35 people in all - stayed at their posts as the winds grew stronger and stronger, and as it became clear that the east side of Katrina's eye was going to clip Hancock County.

"We started feeling the winds at 0100 on the day the storm hit. They got progressively stronger and stronger," he said.

First he banned staff from going outside to check the strength of the winds, and then forbade them even from going to the glass front doors of the building to look outside.

And then, late in the morning, Mr Adam saw water starting to rise in the centre.

The facility occupies the back half of the Hancock County's Justice Court, but lying slightly lower, so he moved the entire team to the front half of the building.

Nerves

It was then they took an extraordinary precaution.

Triage centre outside Hancock County Medical Center
Emergency workers who rode out the storm oversaw relief efforts
"Well, what we did was took a number, wrote it on our hands, wrote a list [of who had each number] and posted it high where the water couldn't get to it in case something did happen to us.

"You always prepare for the worst. That's just the training that I grew up with in the fire service. If you feel something bad is going to happen, you want yourself identified."

Mr Adam said he personally did not think anything was going to happen to them, but added: "We had a lot of people in here that were very nervous about the situation."

Luckily, Mr Adam was right. The Emergency Operations Center took in about a foot and a half of water, but the court at the front of the building never flooded, and the structure itself withstood the storm.

"The only thing we had to worry about was the water."

Then, after an hour or two, there was a sudden change.

"The pressure started dropping and our ears started popping," he said.

"And the next you thing you know the wind starts changing around to the north, and the water went out."




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