Monster storm takes aim at SE coastline

BY SUSAN KIM | FLORIDA | September 13, 1999


FLORIDA (Sept. 13, 1999) -- If Hurricane Floyd makes a U.S. landfall,

the situation could be catastrophic, said forecasters who tracked the

gargantuan storm as it traveled westward -- still toward the U.S.

mainland.

Although forecasters and residents alike are hoping Floyd, packing

155 mph winds and on the verge of becoming a category five hurricane,

will make a turn to the north, even the storm's outermost edge will

likely wallop the eastern U.S. - especially central Florida and South

Carolina -- with hurricane-force winds and rain.

Considered more of a danger to lives and property than Hurricane

Andrew -- a category four hurricane that, in 1992, was the biggest

disaster ever to strike the U.S. -- Floyd's strength and size has

surprised even seasoned hurricane trackers.

A hurricane warning continues for the northwest and central Bahamas,

and a hurricane watch for the entire Florida east coast. Floyd could

bring 20-foot storm surges, and the southeastern Bahamas, Puerto

Rico, and the Virgin Islands are being pelted with heavy rain.

The Florida Department of Emergency Management met Monday to plan

evacuations that could begin in earnest on Monday night, and South

Carolina emergency management officials are similarly monitoring the

massive storm. Emergency trucks, food, generators, saws, and response

teams are on red-alert in both states as pilots continuously fly over

to assess exactly when the first bands of rain will hit.

The Southern Baptist Convention has two mobile units, one for feeding

people and one for cleanup and recovery, that will be sent after

initial search-and-rescue operations are complete. The units will

work with the American Red Cross to meet people's emergency needs.

Mobile units could be sent to South Carolina as well.

Lynn Latham, director of Community Service Ministries for some 120

Southern Baptist churches in the Orlando area, said she has already

recruited 150 volunteers who will staff the units in three-day shifts.

Latham said she just hopes the trucks make it through the storm. "I

don't think that, around here, too much is going to be storm proof

from this one," she said.

Other faith-based response leaders are making last-minute phone calls

cautioning local clergy to secure their buildings and check on

parishioners. "I'm getting a phone call about every

minute-and-a-half," said Bill Rhan, disaster response coordinator for

the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. "At this

point, it's no longer if this storm hits -- but when."

Even Florida residents who lived through Hurricane Andrew are afraid.

"This is mind-boggling," said Nelly Greenawald, a resident of Florida

City, which Hurricane Andrew all but wiped out seven years ago.

Greenawald lost her home when Hurricane Andrew swept through Florida

and South Carolina, living in the First Baptist Church for 10 weeks

until it was rebuilt. Now she lives in a mobile home, but "I'm

planning to stay at the church again," she said. "I already packed a

change of clothes, some food, an army cot left over from Hurricane

Andrew, my bedding, prescriptions, important papers. And my Bible."

She said she considers Andrew "basic training," for this storm, as do

many residents in Florida and South Carolina, Andrew's hardest-hit

states.

Now some disaster response leaders are concerned that, even though

Florida and South Carolina are as prepared for catastrophe as they

can be, other states along the southeast coast are not as ready. "I

think residents who were hardest-hit by Andrew do more planning and

take evacuations more seriously," said David Beers, disaster response

coordinator for the Miami district of the United Methodist Church.

But he is also concerned that people who weathered Andrew won't stay

around to recover from Floyd. "A lot of people have told me that, if

Floyd makes a major hit, they'll leave the state because they can't

face the whole rebuilding process again."

Emergency response officials are cautioning residents to take Floyd

extremely seriously. "If a storm of this magnitude hits Florida --

and not only our state because the whole southeast and east coast is

threatened -- then it will be devastating," said Alex Amparo, an

emergency coordinating officer for the Florida State Office of

Emergency Management.

He added that people with special needs -- such as disabled

individuals and the elderly -- will start being evacuated as early as

Monday night.

The public seems to be taking the threat seriously, said Amy

Killgallon, a DeLand, Fla., resident who is acting president of

Florida Interfaiths Networking in Disaster. "I went to K-Mart today

and there were only six flashlight batteries left," she said. "I can

remember people scalping batteries during Hurricane Andrew."

Killgallon added that community awareness has motivated people to

check on their neighbors and pull together. "In the checkout line,

people were telling each other to stay safe, and I went over and

checked with my 80-year-old neighbor to make sure her prescriptions

were up-to-date."

"As something like this approaches, it can bring out the best in

people," she said.

Meanwhile, forecasters are keeping an eye on Gert, the fifth

hurricane of the season, which is still well west of the Leeward

Islands but is likely to continue moving west and strengthening. If

it continues on its current course, it could eventually threaten

Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, both of which are still

recovering and rebuilding from last hurricane season.

Posted Sept. 13, 1999


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