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On final day, he tries to scare some sense into us

Early edition

Published January 3, 2007


On his last day as the well-known face of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Max Mayfield talked of the ugly side of beautiful coastlines like those around Tampa Bay.

Towering condominiums, dazzling hotels and million-dollar homes along the U.S. coastline, he said, will someday lead to a “mega disaster’’ far worse than Hurricane Katrina.

The normally upbeat Mayfield said he knows people don’t want to hear such doom and gloom, but too few of the 7-million people who call coastal southern Florida home are prepared for hurricanes.

“If we continue to develop the coastline, we’re going to set ourselves up, eventually, for a hurricane disaster,’’ Mayfield said Wednesday.

“I don’t care how well-built your house is if you live near sea level. If you have a significant storm surge … those homes are going to flood.’’

Many Americans recognize the 58-year-old Mayfield, a government employee for 34 years, from the numerous TV interviews he gave as hurricanes swirled off Florida.

If a storm bigger than Katrina were to hit a heavily populated coastal city, he said, millions could be left homeless and thousands killed.

Mayfield, who guided Floridians through some of the nation’s worst hurricane seasons, stopped short of calling for an end to waterfront construction.

But he said residents, builders and government leaders must realize the risks.

Mayfield said he plans to take a couple of months off before trying something new, such as writing a book or becoming a private disaster consultant.

Mayfield is being succeeded by Bill Proenza, 62, who oversees the National Weather Service’s southern region.

A killer storm is inevitable during the current highly active hurricane cycle, which is expected to last 10 to 20 more years, Mayfield said.

“Hurricanes,’’ he said, “are not going to miraculously go away.”

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Melanie Ave can be reached at (727) 893-8813 or

[Last modified January 3, 2007, 20:40:07]

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