FORREST COUNTY, MS (WDAM) - Emergency management, Forrest County and Hattiesburg officials are asking residents in low-lying areas to voluntarily evacuate.
Forrest County Emergency Management Director Glen Moore, Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree and Forrest County Board of Supervisors President David Hogan said Friday that residents living near the Bouie River, the Leaf River and the Black Creek River need to be prepared to leave as water levels continue to rise through Sunday.
"This is serious," DuPree said. "We would much rather people to evacuate and go to a shelter, go to a friend, go to another relative."
The Bouie River and the Black Creek River are supposed to crest Friday night around 25 feet, which Moore said will create moderate flooding, but the Leaf River is his major focus.
"The main area of concern is going to be the Leaf, which will crest at 9 o'clock Sunday morning at 29 feet," Moore said. "There's kind of an urgency involved with the Leaf. At 6 o'clock in the morning (Saturday), the Leaf is going to be at 27 feet 5 inches, so there's an urgency involved in people needing to evacuate and begin that plan soon."
Moore said he would call water level that high a "top five flood" for the Leaf River and said the river has not been that high in almost 25 years.
"All day long the crest has continued to go upward," Moore said. "We started (Thursday) night looking at a 21-foot crest for the Leaf. Throughout the day, it has gone to 29 feet and has been a very dangerous, quick rise. That's kind of the most concerning thing is how quick it is rising. It doesn't give us a lot of time to, you know, prepare and get people moved."
DuPree said, "If anyone was around in 1974 when the flood stage, when it crest at 34 feet, they know what happens. They need to move."
He said that is particularly true for Hattiesburg's lowest-lying areas.
"If you're living east of James Street, east of Main Street, east of Highway 42 and 49, that's the area," he said.
DuPree said Moore told him it could take three or four days for all of the water to recede, so evacuees should pack accordingly.
"This is not an overnight stay," DuPree said. "If it gets to 29 or 34 feet, you're going to be gone for a few days."
Hogan said even if homes are not immediately flooding, an earlier evacuation means less water on the roads.
"We're encouraging people to stay off the roads if at all possible, and if they see water over the road, turn around and don't drown," Hogan said. "The people down in the Brooklyn and Camp Dantzler area on Black Creek need to be packing and battening down and leaving."
Hogan said the Mississippi Department of Transportation is also projecting some flooding on Highway 11 at the Evelyn Gandy Parkway and possibly some sections of Highway 49.
"People need to stay off the roads if it's not absolutely necessary," he said.
All officials said it is safer for residents to err on the side of caution, and evacuate.
"We don't want to have to come get them in boats if at all possible," Hogan said. "It puts everybody at risk. We'd prefer that they'd go ahead and get out now."
While they would prefer not to use rescue boats, officials say they are prepared to use them if they are needed.
"We've inventoried our boats and fueling them," Hogan said. "Hopefully we won't have to use them, but we will be prepared if needed."
DuPree said they have eight water rescuers on standby and said emergency officials are in contact with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the National Guard in case Forrest County needs help from those agencies.
Hogan said residents can check the USGS Flood Inundation Mapper to see if their homes are in the projected flood area.
DuPree said one of the best and easiest ways to receive periodic updates is to register you phone number with the city's for the Reverse 911 program. He also said the city will broadcast emergency messages through its tornado sirens.
"This is not a mandatory evacuation, but we are encouraging people to move out," DuPree said. "It is disastrous what water can do."