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Date of Issue: June 24, 2009


Things aren't looking good for 'season' recovery if big one comes

Hurricane season began June 1 and continues to Nov. 30.

As we’ve found out, though, hurricane hell can last for weeks, months, even decades.

The start of hell is warm water. Thunderstorms form. Rain falls. Wind blows. Thermal air currents start to shoot up into the sky. More storms. More wind, and the wind starts to push counterclockwise.

And the usually placid waters of the Gulf of Mexico, or the Caribbean Sea, or the Atlantic Ocean, become a host for a tropical wave, or a tropical storm, or a hurricane.

We’ve been living in a post-hurricane season for several years now. In 2004, Hurricane Charley was armed and ready to make landfall at the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, but veered sooner than expected to the east and hit Punta Gorda instead.

Then came Hurricane Francis. And Hurricane Jeanne, both coming near but veering away from Anna Maria Island that same year, causing some damage but not the devastation that our neighbors up and down the coast experienced.

In 2005, we had Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Rita. And Hurricane Wilma, at one point the strongest-ever storm on record.

Don’t forget Ike and the damage to Galveston Island and Houston in September 2008.

Rare is a hurricane-related news report that even today doesn’t carry a mention of 2005 storm damage and the resulting aftermath in what’s left of the northern Gulf Coast. Ditto for New Orleans, where the feds have pretty much given up the ghost and sold off the “Katrina Trailers” to their “homeowners” for $1.

The storm stories that consume us are the lesson of tomorrow.

We’ve focused for years on the needs of evacuation in the face of a storm. The care needed to secure our property. The supplies necessary to get us through the “storm event,” as emergency management officials like to call the stormy hell as it approaches.

But it’s only been in the past few years that the devastation has really gained a name, and that name is time.

Although the federal government and state officials, as well as regional and local authorities, proclaim they’re about as prepared as they can be for a disaster, the hard fact of the matter is that all of their planning probably won’t be enough.

Sure, you can expect government to get you off the Island in the face of a major storm. We proved that Aug. 13, 2004, when Hurricane Charley threatened and we left. True, it took some door-to-door urging by law enforcement, but our 8,500 or so residents pretty much all left except for a score or so of hardcores.

But think about having to fend for yourself for the next few days, or weeks, or, as we saw in New Orleans and Mississippi, months? Are you ready for that?

Emergency management officials are not a bunch of dummies. They advise we all be prepared to be on our own for at least a week if a big blow comes toward us.

Seven days worth of water — a gallon a day per person — plus food, clothes, medicine, light, comfort items, whatever.

Evacuation shelters are havens of last resort. Remember the pictures of the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans? Of course, the conditions here will not echo those in the Big Easy, but it sure won’t be easy trying to bed down amidst 200 or so people on a hard floor for a night, let alone a week or a month.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, reeling after the debacle of Hurricane Katrina, has drastically reconfigured itself.

There are almost three times the number of employees within the agency today versus then.

The agency also is planning to “pre-deploy” people in areas where storms approach to provide a quicker response for victims, and communications have improved through satellite hookups. Claim processing is also better now than then. There’s also food and water and other supplies stashed in somewhat safe locations throughout the country to make getting stuff to the people who need it a quicker process.

Will it all be enough? Of course not.

Emergency management officials predict that it could take a community up to five years to fully recover from a Category 3 hurricane — one with winds of 111 mph.

They estimate 10 years for a Cat 5 storm.

 

What to do?

Short of relocating to, say, Colorado, there isn’t much to be done when the Big One comes our way. Oh, right, Colorado has snow and earthquakes. Never mind that.

Start getting ready now for the upcoming storm season. Sure, officials predict a near-average hurricane season, but that could mean 11 named storms, three severe and two very severe. Remember that it only takes one to make a mess of Anna Maria Island.

Grab a couple of cans of tuna fish when you next go to the store. Spam. Vienna sausages. A gallon of water. Start saving your old milk jugs to refill with water if a storm starts our way.

Check your emergency kit. Batteries. More batteries. Check the batteries you’ve got and replace the corroded ones. Get another flashlight or six.

Best advice? Make a new best friend on the mainland well away from any storm surge. Chip in to get a generator as part of your “rent” during a storm. Maybe even help stockpile food and water at the house.

Sleeping in a spare room is a lot better than sleeping on the floor of a crowded gym.

You can get up-to-date hurricane preparedness information at our Web site, www.islander.org. Look for the Storm Avengers.

 

Sandscript factoid

A buddy watched the devastation in Mississippi and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina hit and wanted to help. He held a commercial truck license, and figured he could be useful.

He drove a truck full of ice everywhere but where it was needed for weeks. Never did deliver it anywhere due to federal confusion about where to go and what to do. He ended up dropping the truck off in Virginia. He also came down with some sort of weird disease that put him in the Mayo Clinic for weeks while the docs sorted out what bug had bit him and how to cure it. He lost 60 pounds in the process over about six weeks.

The point here is that the government can’t always do the best thing, even for the best of people, during a disaster.

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