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Florida gets ready to face Georges

BY SUSAN KIM | SOUTHERN FLORIDA | September 23, 1998

SOUTHERN FLORIDA (September 23, 1998) -- Forecasters say Hurricane

Georges, steaming toward Florida's southwest coast at a speed of 75 mph,

could reach its destination as early as Friday.

If, as expected, the storm grows over the warm water of the Florida

Straits, Floridians could face record devastation. If Georges veers off

course, they'll breathe a sigh of relief.

Either way, millions of Floridians are getting ready. They've depleted

stocks of plywood in local home improvement stores so they can board up

their windows. They're stocking up on food and water. They're standing in

line at cash machines and gas stations. They're trimming trees, storing

belongings, backing up computer systems, renting portable toilets, and

tuning up generators.

State authorities have already ordered residents of the Florida Keys to

evacuate their homes. Others are staying glued to their televisions as they

await word on evacuation.

"If it doesn't come, we'll thank God, but if it does, we're going to be

battened down and ready to respond," said Major John Jordan with the Miami

Salvation Army. "We learned some serious lessons from responding to

Hurricane Andrew -- like pre-checking generators and renting enough

portable toilets. Also, during Hurricane Andrew, we stored a few of our

vans under overhangs and they got pretty banged up. This time we're finding

indoor storage so we can get them out right after the storm hits."

Nancy Nolt, director of public relations with the Christian Sharing

Center in Sanford, FL., said the center is ready to respond. "Right now

meteorologists are predicting three or four scenarios that could happen,"

she said.

"All we can do is be here and keep doing what we're doing -- casework,

response, and meeting unmet needs. Since we've already been dealing with

tornadoes and fires, we'll be able to assess the situation a little faster.

This year we've gotten a lot of experience in a very short time."

The storm, which has sustained winds of more than 115 mph and gusts

approaching 175 mph, left a wake of destruction in Puerto Rico, the

Dominican Republic, and the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, more than

20,000 people were in shelters today and 75 percent of island was without

power.

There is widespread flooding and severe housing damage in the Virgin

Islands as well. President Clinton declared both Puerto Rico and the Virgin

Islands major disaster areas. Residents of Cuba were ordered to evacuate

today as the hurricane bore down on that country's eastern coast. Georges

also caused flash floods in Haiti today, where mudslides are a growing

concern.

Even though Floridians know what to do, they're struggling to beat the

clock. I Care, an interfaith coalition started in Miami in the wake of

Hurricane Andrew, is still rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Andrew

in 1992. The organization also houses 138 adjudicated teenage boys who will

have to be evacuated to other facilities if the storm gets much nearer.

"If it does happen, we'll be prepared -- well, you'll never be prepared

but at least you can try," said Daisy DeJesus, executive assistant. "We're

all trying to take care of the youth and the facility, then we have to go

take care of our own homes."

Anxiety is running high as residents rush to secure belongings, all the

while remembering the difficulties of life after Hurricane Andrew. "There's

an awful feeling of tension. It brings it all back," said Judith Bunker, a

board member of the Jubilee Community Development Corporation, which was

formed after Andrew to conduct long-term disaster response.

Bunker also worries about residents who try to leave too late after

evacuation has been ordered. "The winds from this hurricane could be so bad

that auto traffic will be impossible," she said. "I hope that people are

getting ready to evacuate early and voluntarily."

Doug Mayer, director of development for Jubilee, said that watching the

storm shutters go up gives Florida a feeling of 'here we go again.' Mayer

and his wife, who live on their 45-foot sailboat, plan to ride out the

storm anchored in the Miami River. "The river is protected," he said.

"We'll just have to contend with high winds." During Hurricane Andrew,

Mayer lived on a 35-foot sailboat, but anchored it and took refuge ashore.

"It did fine," he said.

Jody Hill, executive director of Florida Interfaith Natural Disaster

(FIND), has been sending blanket e-mails to disaster response volunteers

and staff to warm them to get ready and stay safe themselves so they can

help others. "Based on predictions, Georges is a powerful and potentially

dangerous storm. Please take precautions. We need you all safe and sound to

assist those who may not be so fortunate," she wrote in an urgent email to

disaster respondents statewide.

FIND is already planning an interfaith disaster response effort with

BayCare in the Tampa and St. Petersburg areas. "We will be bringing

together state agencies, social services, and faith organizations," she

said.

Meanwhile Federal Reserve Management Agency (FEMA) and disaster response

organizations, including the Church World Service and American Red Cross,

have sent personnel to help areas already devastated by the hurricane.

Further east in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jeanne strengthened today off

the coast of Africa, with winds already at 90 mph.

Posted September 23, 1998


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