Storm drenches Florida

BY LARA BRICKER | NAPLES, FL | September 16, 2001

"Where were these over-achieving predictors these past two days -- when we really needed them?"

—Jody Hill

Tropical Storm Gabrielle inundated Florida with heavy rain Saturday and Sunday. Many residents received very little warning because of the media's concentration on Tuesday's tragic terrorist attacks.

The storm moved out to sea but not before it dropped up to 11 inches of rain in parts of Florida, and brought high winds to Georgia and North Carolina.

On Sunday morning, near Tampa, the Alafia and Little Manatee rivers crested several feet above flood stage.

Parts of downtown St. Augustine were flooded when Matanzas Bay overflowed its banks, and some streets in Jacksonville were closed due to flooding. Mandatory evacuations were issued in flood prone areas of DeSoto County.

DeSoto County Emergency Management Director Catherine Furr said it was difficult to get the media to take its focus off the terrorism attack and broadcast information about Gabrielle. Because most of the television stations had not followed Gabrielle closely, some residents only learned of the storm Thursday.

"Initially, they hadn't seen anything on TV about it," Furr said.

Church World Service Disaster Response Specialist Jody Hill agreed. Usually Florida residents are inundated with weather prediction and warning news, she said. But this wasn't the case this weekend. "Where were these over-achieving predictors these past two days -- when we really needed them?"

When Hill, driving home, tried to find radio news on the storm, she was out of luck, she said, and then "my car and others began to be pushed and shoved about like toys by gusty winds."

Later "it sounded as if someone was using our home as a punching bag," she added. "My husband could not even open the door to find out what was happening."

Hill and her husband woke up to find most of their front roof scattered across the yard.

"But I fear that many throughout Florida were not so fortunate," she said.

"I'm sure there has to be a lot of damage -- flooding, downed trees on

houses, debris. I can only tell you that there is a whole lot more than we have seen on the news or that has been reported by county emergency management."

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