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Florida Officials--"Be Prepared for Storms"

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  • Florida Officials--"Be Prepared for Storms"

    Officials warn residents to be ready for storms
    KEVIN O'HORAN
    Herald Staff Writer

    TAMPA - The threat of a storm packing a 150-mph punch, house-high waves and rains to flood a state would seem a pretty easy message to deliver.

    Yet, experts and officials worry the message may be lost in Florida, where millions of new residents have been added in the 11 years since Hurricane Andrew ravaged the state.

    On Wednesday, those experts gathered in Tampa to discuss getting that message out, making sure people understand the deadly danger of the storms.

    "The big challenge we face is communicating the need to take this seriously," Gov. Jeb Bush told a crowd of 1,000 at the state's annual hurricane conference. "That's our number one need."

    This year, the 17th for the conference, the theme of workshops, training sessions and even roundtable discussions for some 1,800 attendees is readying the state for any disaster, whether storm-related or in the form of terrorism.

    On Wednesday, that "all-hazards approach," zeroed in on the state's annual hurricane season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30, a half-year stretch that forces Floridians to stare down the barrel of a loaded gun.

    Tropical storms gain explosive power in the warm waters of the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico, then shoot toward the Sunshine State.

    Many storms blow apart before they reach land; others dance and dart around, blasting into Texas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Mexico or points not named Florida.

    But every so often, along comes an Andrew, a top-tier hurricane that flattened Miami-Dade County in 1992 with winds of 150 mph, killing 40 and causing $35 billion in damage.

    Or, a Gabrielle, half as muscular as Andrew, not quite a hurricane, even.

    Just powerful enough.

    "Manatee County got a heads-up . . . when Tropical Storm Gabrielle hit Sarasota," said Laurie Feagans, Manatee's emergency management chief. "We saw the wind damage, the trees knocked down, the rain and flooding."

    But most people escaped unscathed. Good for them, this time; bad for the message, for next time.

    "That's the emergency manager's plight," Feagans said. " 'Be prepared, be prepared, be prepared,' and then nothing happens."

    Add to that the hundreds of thousands of people who move to Florida from areas never reached by tropical storms, and many in the state have been removed either in time or distance from the danger. It's a condition Bush described as an "amnesia that is slowly setting in on our state regarding emergencies."

    Clearing up that collective amnesia comes back time and again to communication, officials said, in getting the word out about deadly threats, whether natural or human.

    Oh, and heeding the messages.

    "I firmly believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the president will win the war on terrorism," Michael Brown, undersecretary for the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, told conference attendees.

    "But we will never win the war against Mother Nature, nor will we win the war with stupidity."
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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