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Floridians unready for hurricanes, Red Cross warns

Published June 1, 2004

TAMPA - Today is the first day of hurricane season and, chances are, you're not ready.

More than half of Floridians don't have an evacuation plan and about 60 percent have not assembled a disaster supply kit, according to a poll done for the American Red Cross.

Hurricane and emergency preparedness is of "unprecedented importance" because of Sept. 11 and Hurricane Andrew, which devastated parts of South Florida in 1992, said Marsha Evans, president and CEO of the American Red Cross.

"By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail," Evans told several hundred emergency workers at last week's annual Governor's Hurricane Conference in Tampa.

Hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30, and this year experts are predicting a slightly busier time than last year.

Researcher William Gray and his team of hurricane forecasters predict 14 named storms will form in the Atlantic basin this year. Of those, eight are expected to grow into hurricanes and three will become giant hurricanes of Category 3 or above, Gray said.

With the exception of Hurricane Andrew, Florida has been spared major hurricanes in recent decades, and none has directly hit the Tampa Bay area in more than 80 years.

With the state's population at 17-million residents, the potential for loss of life and property damage is high.

"There's so much more in harm's way now," Gray said. "I'm sorry to bring you bad news, but that's the way it is."

The Red Cross, which provides shelter, food and other assistance in disasters, has studied coastal communities' preparedness since 2000.

During the most recent poll, half of coastal residents from Maine to Texas said they are "not very concerned" or "not concerned at all" that they and their family will be in danger because of a hurricane or flood. Yet 58 percent of people had been involved in a hurricane or flood in the past.

Such attitudes worry emergency preparedness experts.

"We are more prepared now because of the technology and the tools," said Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings. "Still, our biggest challenge is ahead of us. We have hazard amnesia."

[Last modified June 1, 2004, 01:00:29]

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