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Organizations prepare for coming hurricanes

BY P.J. HELLER | Miami, FL | June 1, 1999

"If I went to summarize in a single word what I have seen with my eyes today, it would only say one thing: devastation."

—Gov. Sila Calderan

The 1999 Atlantic hurricane season officially began today with experts predicting more and bigger storms than normal and urging residents in

hurricane-prone areas to be prepared.

"We're expecting an active season," said Jody Hill of Florida Interfaith Networking in Disaster. "Everybody seems to believe that it's going to be a rough

hurricane season."

Jerry Jarrell, director of the National Hurricane Center, said the outlook calls for "increased chances for greater-than-average hurricane activity and three or

more intense storms."

A normal hurricane season typically brings nine or 10 tropical storms. Of those, five or six become hurricanes, and two are intense storms.

Faith-based groups, emergency management officials and relief organizations were bracing for what James Lee Witt, director of the Federal Emergency

Management Agency (FEMA), called the "annual lottery of fear" along the U.S. coastline.

"We know we can't stop a hurricane from roaring in off the coast," Witt said. "But we can act together to reduce the impact they have on our lives. We can

make these next few months a time of confidence and hope, rather than a season of speculation and fear."

Witt, promoting FEMA's "Project Impact" to make communities less vulnerable to storm damage, said every dollar spent on prevention efforts saves two to

three dollars in future losses. More than 100 local communities have taken part in the program since it was launched in 1997.

Despite that, "the potential for economic catastrophe in coastal cities and towns has increased dramatically in recent years because more and more people are

moving to the coasts," said Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley, who oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"It is imperative that local residents and businesses be prepared to protect themselves and their property," Daley said.

To help in that effort, the Terrebonne Readiness and Assistance Coalition (TRAC) in Louisiana has again published its hurricane preparedness guide for

residents along the southeast Louisiana coast.

The guide includes information about how to prepare for a storm, evacuation routes and an updated section on available shelters. The booklets are being

distributed free in grocery stores, hardware stores and other locations throughout 13 southeast Louisiana parishes.

In addition, TRAC has prepared hurricane preparedness information packets for children which can be used during summer library reading programs. The

packets include coloring books, buttons, t-shirts and various other children's activities.

Emergency management officials from throughout the parishes, as well as Peggy Case, director of TRAC, met today to discuss preparedness issues.

FIND, meantime, was continuing to organize interfaiths throughout Florida with the goal of assisting in the organization of one in each of the 67 counties of

the state. There are currently about 15 or 16 that have been organized, Hill reported.

"We are actively, as fast as we can and with what resources we can, trying to develop interfaiths throughout the state of Florida and to at least raise their

awareness level of what their role would be in the time of disaster, where they could access resources, and the types of things they might do," she said.

At the Tampa Bay Interfaith, leaders have held "awareness building seminars" in congregations in the Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater areas. The

programs have included speakers from emergency management, the American Red Cross and public safety departments, she noted.

FIND was also continuing to work closely with officials from the state and FEMA, as well as building officials, "to get everybody on the same page" about

building rules and regulations following a disaster.

"You'd be amazed about how each one of the counties and municipalities want to interpret things a little differently," Hill said. The result, she said, was

confusion among residents who often received conflicting information from different neighboring jurisdictions.

"We're trying to get things a little more uniform," she said. "It keeps the emotional stress down."

On a national level, President Clinton has signed legislation giving the Small Business Administration $15 million for loans to help businesses prepare for

natural disasters. Those funds will be targeted at Project Impact communities first, Witt noted.

The National Weather Service has upgraded its offices with advanced computer systems.

"The increased capabilities provided by these technologies enable us to better forecast hurricane-related weather and flooding, and get out more timely

warnings that may save lives," said John J. Kelly Jr., director of the Weather Service.

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What's changed, what hasn't at FEMA

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