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Tornado delivered summer wakeup call
A Times Editorial
Published June 2, 2005
Thirty minutes before the official start of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, Mother Nature smacked central Pasco County Tuesday night with high winds from a low-grade tornado.
The storm came and left quickly, taking seven minutes to damage approximately 15 businesses and homes in Land O' Lakes. It had no name, and residents received little or no warning, with only a National Weather Service tornado watch coming about 40 minutes before the storm.
On the whole, damage was relatively minor, though owners of one house said it is uninhabitable, and a U.S. 41 shed retailer found his inventory scattered about Lake Padgett Estates.
Residents, however, should survey the scene of lost electrical service, downed limbs and damaged buildings and take stock in their hurricane preparations. Tornadoes are common byproducts of hurricanes' strong winds, although the storm Tuesday night was unrelated to hurricane activity.
Just consider the tornado a wakeup call. One that is needed.
Last month, a Mason-Dixon poll of residents from a dozen east and Gulf Coast counties discovered a majority didn't feel vulnerable even though four storms hit Florida within a six-week period in 2004. A quarter of those polled said they didn't plan to prepare at all and a like number said they could evacuate in 30 minutes.
It is a sad misconception and the dangerous combination of ignorance and apathy is a threat to public safety.
Locally, more than 168,000 Pasco residents are at risk in a Category 3 hurricane. An evacuation of the county's flood zones is projected to take 16 hours to complete. It would take 11/2 days under the likely scenario Pasco evacuated at the same time as Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
In 2004, three storms hit Pasco, destroying 14 homes and damaging almost 4,500 buildings. Two dozen neighborhoods flooded and the tab for cleanup and response totaled nearly $7-million.
As St. Petersburg Times staff writer Bridget Hall Grumet reported, Pasco County and private utilities have updated their emergency plans for this hurricane season. The county lobbied for greater publicity from Tampa Bay area broadcast outlets, surveyed potential poststorm shelters and plans to bring supplies directly to neighborhoods instead of relying on regional distribution points. They are smart changes, though responsibility for preparation and evacuation still falls to individual residents.
Last year, Pasco officials went on live television to urge residents to evacuate in the face of the approaching Hurricane Charley, the first of four storms to hit the state. The televised pitch at least helped double the shelters' population to 2,400 within two hours. Still, public activity was remarkably low key.
In Pinellas, government officials this year will no longer use the vernacular "voluntary evacuation." The new term will be "recommended evacuation" in anticipation of greater public response.
Residents should prepare now. The state's tax-free holiday for hurricane supplies began Wednesday and continues through June 12 to allow people to save money buying batteries and other essentials.
The hurricane season lasts six months. Look around Land O' Lakes for a potential preview. Then get ready.