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Casting wary eye on new storm

BY SUSAN KIM | Hampton, VA | October 10, 1999

Now churning through the North Atlantic in a path that tracks north of the Caribbean and toward the

eastern U.S., Floyd reached hurricane status Friday morning, posting sustained winds of 80 mph.

Forecasters expect the storm to strengthen, and predict it could become a major hurricane with winds

exceeding 110 mph.

Meanwhile, residents in Hampton, Va., and in multiple counties in North Carolina are in the throes of

recovery after sustaining damages from Hurricane Dennis' lengthy stall and slow crawl up the coastline

last week.

In Hampton, which was declared a federal disaster area Thursday, more than 1,000 residents were

displaced by a tornado -- a spin-off from Dennis -- that grazed one apartment building, nearly

demolished another, and heavily damaged an assisted living center.

"We've got everybody back in their residence, or into some stable temporary living situation," said Eric

Wooster, Hampton's emergency coordinator. The city's Department of Codes and Compliance has

completed inspections and damage assessments on the buildings.

Wooster said he was grateful for the role that the faith-based community played in responding to the

tornado, particularly the Ivy Memorial Baptist Church, which opened its doors to house elderly

residents and other displaced people. The church also provided a resting place and food for volunteer

firefighters, police, and emergency service personnel. The American Red Cross was able to set up

services there as well.

"That church was a major player in the success of our response operation," Wooster said. "Also, the local

restaurants donated food, and everybody pulled together. I think there is a wonderful spirit of

community."

But, Wooster said, Hampton residents aren't yet breathing a sigh of relief. "We're already looking at

what to do with Floyd," he said. "You tend to see a lot of tornadoes spinning off of storm systems like

this."

In North Carolina, residents are also mopping up - while watching the forecast. The Federal Emergency

Management Agency (FEMA) authorized disaster aid for six North Carolina counties -- Beaufort,

Carteret, Craven, Dare, Hyde, and Pamlico -- on Wednesday. More than 350 homes were flooded by

Dennis, first as a hurricane then as a tropical storm. Homes in Pamlico Sound and Cedar Island were hit

hardest, some left with more than three feet of water in them after a nine-foot storm surge. Response

organizations report, however, that most damaged homes are vacation or rental properties, and that

most homeowners have insurance.

In Florida -- which Dennis spared completely -- residents are "watching, waiting, and praying," said Jody

Hill, executive director of Florida Interfaiths Networking in Disaster (FIND). "We were more than

relieved to miss Dennis. It could have been much worse for the entire country."

But has that 'near miss' made people more apathetic toward preparations for the next storm? "There's

no question that's a concern, especially if we end up having to evacuate a large portion of the

population," said Hill. "One near miss is sometimes enough for people to think you're crying wolf."

The majority of the 5,000 people stranded on North Carolina's Outer Banks last week during Hurricane

Dennis were there, for example, because they hadn't heeded evacuation orders, she said. "I can

remember one couple who stayed on their sailboat during Hurricane Georges last year."

The couple was miraculously unscathed, but Hill said emergency response workers and faith-based

groups alike are over-taxed when they must accommodate "a population that refuses to be cooperative"

by obeying evacuation orders. "Part of living in a coastal community means that you take the

responsibility to evacuate when told to do so."

But this year Hill said she thinks people are not generally apathetic, partly because of being hit by

Hurricane Georges and multiple wildfires last year. "At least right now there is a great deal of awareness

and a high level of concern," she said. "This has been a good year for faith-based leaders to learn more

about what their role might be."

Concern about hurricane -- and other disaster -- preparedness might be heightened for another reason

as well: the approach of the year 2000 rollover, or Y2K. Disaster response groups of all kinds report

high attendance at seminars and local discussions, with attendees claiming that Y2K has motivated them

to be prepared for other disasters as well.


Related Topics:

What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

Atlantic storm morphs into Javier

Florida prepares for TS Colin


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