tampabay.com

Many clueless after 4 storms

A recent poll shows many coastal dwellers didn't learn much after the 2004 hurricane season.

By TAMARA LUSH
Published May 29, 2005


MIAMI - Even after four hurricanes slammed Florida last year, many people still don't have a clue about gathering a hurricane kit or forming an evacuation plan, a recent poll suggests.

Fifty-six percent of people in a dozen East and Gulf Coast states don't feel vulnerable to hurricanes, and 25 percent would do nothing to prepare, according to a Mason-Dixon poll released in early May.

In Florida, 30 percent of people don't have a hurricane plan, the poll found.

"This is not a good thing," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, which paid for the poll along with the Salvation Army, the National Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Last year's hurricane season was the worst in memory, with four storms - Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne - pummeling Florida in six weeks.

Officials had hoped that experience would have educated people about the danger of hurricanes, yet 89 percent failed a 20-question test about the monster storms.

"People need to prepare now, and they don't have their plans ready and we know it," said Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings.

The telephone poll surveyed 1,100 adults April 20-26 in coastal states from Texas to Maine, including Florida. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. About 100 people in Florida were surveyed.

Hurricane season runs June 1 through Nov. 30. For many, the start of the season is the beginning of six months of anxiety, of gathering supplies and checking evacuation plans. The Florida Legislature een passed legislation exempting certain hurricane supplies from sales taxes during the first 12 days of hurricane season.

But some people in Miami Beach, a half-hour from the hurricane center, expressed little urgency.

"Uhhhh ... I guess when hurricane season comes, I'll get ready," said Elliott Chapa, a 28-year-old waiter. "I live day by day."

The poll found about 25 percent of people in the 12 states thought they could evacuate in 30 minutes. Chapa thinks so, too.

"That is dangerous folly," Mayfield said. "Even if you live smack in the middle of the state, you still need to have a plan."

That was painfully evident last year, when inland cities such as Kissimmee and Arcadia received heavy wind damage.

The poll revealed serious misconceptions about hurricane planning.

More than half think masking tape helps prevent windows from shattering. (That's a myth.) Fifty-six percent think candles would be helpful during a power failure. (Candles are a fire hazard.)

And 35 percent think they should bring their pets to an evacuation shelter. (Few shelters accept pets.) Another 15 percent say they would leave their pets at home with a three-day supply of food and water. (That's not safe for the pets.)

Still, 53 percent claim they have some idea what they would do if a hurricane threatened their home.

"My boyfriend and I just started discussing our plan for this year," said Lisa Gage, 40, a bartender at the Ka'Tiki on Sunset Beach in Pinellas County.

Last year Gage evacuated the barrier island for her family's home in the Pasco County town of Wesley Chapel.

That was a good idea, experts say.

Instead of trying to travel as far away as possible, people should arrange in advance to stay with a friend of family member who is nearby but outside the evacuation zone, they say.