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FL prepares as Fay moves closer

Disaster response organizations ready as tropical system moves into state

BY VICKI DESORMIER | TAMPA | August 18, 2008


"I have been worried for some time about what would happen if a storm comes ashore in Tampa"

—Jody Hill, Florida Interfaith Networking in Disasters


Residents along Florida's west coast are holding their breath, waiting to see what Tropical Storm Fay will do as she heads across the Florida Straits.

The storm is expected to gain some strength over the warm waters between the island nation and the Florida Keys where she will bring not-quite-hurricane force winds and several inches of rain on her way into the Gulf of Mexico. There, the storm is predicted to become a Category One storm as she hugs the coast and makes landfall once again just south of Tampa.

"I have been worried for some time about what would happen if a storm comes ashore in Tampa," said Jody Hill, executive director of FIND (Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster). "That is an area that will be very difficult to evacuate."

Willie Puz, the information manager for Hillsborough County (where Tampa is located) said the county's Emergency Policy Group has been meeting and making preparations for a storm since before hurricane season began. They plan to meet on Monday afternoon and make plans in preparation for the storm. An evacuation plan is in place, he said, and if the storm warrants, it will be put in place.

He said the close call with Hurricane Charley four years ago taught area planners a great deal and plans were "ramped up" after that. Though the ensuing seasons have been calm, he said the county has not become complacent and all storms that threaten the west coast of Florida are taken very seriously in Tampa.

"We have also made a strong effort to keep the public informed about plans and an emphasis has been put on making sure residents are prepared for any storm," he said.

Heavy rains and strong winds are already impacting the southern part of Florida as far north as Naples on the west and Fort Lauderdale to the east. For now, the storms are not much stronger than the heavy thunderstorms that move across the state on any summer day, but they are expected to continue to get stronger as Fay moves north.

Gov. Charlie Crist has declared a state of emergency for the entire Florida peninsula. In the wake of the storm, there are expected to be severe thunderstorms, high winds and probably widespread tornados. There is expected to be extensive flooding throughout the state as Fay moves through. Many coastal counties have posted tropical storm and hurricane warnings. Several inland counties are posting the warnings as well.

BJ Johns of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance in the Tampa Bay area said she has been preparing the pastors in her Presbytery for the potential storm. On Sunday, she asked that they talk to their congregations about hurricane preparedness and she is staying in touch with each pastor so that, if there is damage in the wake of the storm, they can assess the situation and move in to help as quickly as possible.

While she has found that some people are taking the situation lightly, she is doing what she can, she said, to make sure as many people as possible are prepared when Fay makes landfall on Tuesday.

"All we can do is inform people and be prepared to respond after the hurricane moves on to land," she said.

The PDA response team is working out the details of their plan, she said. Several conference calls were planned for Monday so the team members are ready to take action as soon as the storm passes.

Hill said FIND is prepared to help with long term recovery programs throughout the state, wherever they are needed. She said she has contacted team members to be sure they know the plan. Some of her teams have been dormant since the wild hurricane season of 2004, she said, but she is nudging them into action so they will be ready to help out with long range plans if they are needed when Fay has made her way across the state.

While state and local agencies are putting the word out, faith-based responders are getting ready to help where they are needed. Stores in the southern part of the state are reporting shoppers actively preparing for a tropical strike, while those further north and inland are beginning to see more people coming into purchase supplies.

"We're seeing a lot of people buying water and tarps are selling pretty well, but I don't see people going crazy to get ready," said Beth Jenkins, the manager of a Wal-Mart Superstore in Sanford, which is located in Central Florida, just north of Orlando. "More people have been coming in to do last minute back-to-school shopping."


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Atlantic storm morphs into Javier

Florida prepares for TS Colin

More hurricanes predicted in '16


More links on Tropical Storms

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