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Pre-storm: 'There's denial'

In the hours before Hurricane Charley hit, there were preparations, evacuation - and denial.

BY SUSAN KIM | NAPLES, Fla. | August 13, 2004

In the hours before Hurricane Charley hit, there were preparations, evacuation - and denial.

As residents went to shelters, watched TV coverage of the pending storm, or viewed satellite imagery online, they said it was still hard to believe the storm would hit.

"There's denial," agreed the Rev. William Morrison, regional minister for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). "The streets are empty. Deep down inside people are thinking: not us. People are thinking: it's not going to happen."

Hurricane Charley roared across Cuba on Friday and churned toward Florida's west coast, where officials urged almost 2 million people to flee. Emergency management officials were concerned that heavy rain and storm surge would swamp parts of Tampa's downtown and neighboring areas.

Faith-based and voluntary groups were busy communicating with each other, staging material resources, and planning to work together to meet both short-term and long-term needs.

With light rain around lunchtime Friday, the quiet could be unnerving. But sociological research has found that people don't commonly panic during an evacuation. This week, Floridians proved this once again.

"People don't usually fall into panic," agreed Morrison. "They are getting ready. There is high awareness. But some people are still saying: not us."

In Naples, the Rev. Jim Kirk was watching rain set in at the Moorings Presbyterian Church. "The worst is yet to come," he said. Kirk, who also represents Presbyterian Disaster Assistance (PDA).

PDA and other faith-based groups were communicating directly with each other, and through the Florida Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster coalition. Faith-based and voluntary groups were working closely with state emergency management officials.

"We're getting ready," said Kirk. "We are talking about what resources are available."

Kirk said his church was prepared to open as an American Red Cross shelter should the need arise. "We're securing our facility. It's a 'wait-and-see' situation."

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