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|ONE MORE DAY!:-)!!! Hurricane Season Is Almost Over|
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|Posted by:||Nov 29th 2005, 02:55:14 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||Hurricane Season Is Almost Over
By JOHN PAIN, Associated Press
The victims of the busiest and costliest Atlantic hurricane season on record may get some comfort when it finally ends Wednesday: no hurricane has been known to hit the U.S. from December to May. But as the deadly six-month season closes, tens of thousands of Americans are still dealing with the devastation from Hurricanes Wilma, Rita and Katrina, the nation's worst natural disaster in modern times.
Thousands remain homeless along the Gulf Coast, where Katrina hit three months ago and plunged New Orleans into chaos usually seen in the Third World. The hurricane exposed the gap between the rich and the poor. Doubts still exist about the country's preparedness for another catastrophe, caused by man or nature.
"Hurricane season is coming back around again. It will be here before you know it. You're happy now, but down the line it could be something more drastic," said Catrell Leashore, 31, who stood on a debris-littered street near his flooded New Orleans home.
He could be right: Forecasters warn that brutal seasons like this one and last year's may be common as the Atlantic is in a period of frenzied hurricane activity that began in 1995 and could last at least another decade. Government hurricane experts say the increase is due to a natural cycle of higher sea temperatures, lower wind shear and other factors, although some scientists blame global warming.
Also, steering currents that have sent more hurricanes toward the U.S. recently could be in place for years, said Stan Goldenberg, a meteorologist with the federal Hurricane Research Division.
"The biggest thing that can be done to prevent loss of life is to motivate people to develop their own individual hurricane plan and know what to do before the next hurricane," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, which won praise for its accurate forecasts. "Some of these folks, take Mississippi in Katrina, they died because they didn't have a hurricane plan."
The season obliterated many long-standing records and was so busy that it had more storms than normally occur in two average years:
_In 154 years of record keeping, this year had the most named storms (26, including Tropical Storm Epsilon, which formed Tuesday), hurricanes (13), major hurricanes hitting the U.S. (4) and top-scale Category 5 hurricanes (3).
_Katrina was the deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1928 (more than 1,300 dead) and replaced 1992's Andrew as the most expensive one on record ($34.4 billion in insured losses).
_Total insured losses from hurricanes this year are $47.2 billion, above the previous record of $22.9 billion set last year when four hurricanes also hit the U.S., according to risk analysis firm ISO.
_Wilma was briefly the most intense Atlantic hurricane on record in terms of minimum central pressure (882 millibars). It also was the fastest strengthening storm on record — its top sustained winds increased 105 mph in 24 hours in the Caribbean.
_Forecasters used up their list of 21 proper names (Arlene, Bret, Cindy, etc.) and had to use the Greek alphabet to name storms for the first time.
Wilma, Dennis and Rita, the other hurricanes that hit the U.S., weren't as deadly or destructive as Katrina, but they also exposed weaknesses: 14-hour traffic jams as Houston emptied out ahead of Rita and South Florida crippled for days after Wilma knocked out power to more than 6 million people.
But the most lasting damage came from Katrina. Miles of coastal Mississippi towns like Waveland and Gulfport were swept away by pounding waves. Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water after levees broke. The world saw families stranded on rooftops and hungry and thirsty refugees stuck in the Superdome and Convention Center. Bodies lay on streets for days; some floated in the fetid flood waters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency took most of the blame for the Bush administration's initial slow response to Katrina. FEMA Director Michael Brown stepped down after questions arose about his ability and experience to handle a disaster.
But the criticism went all the way up to President Bush, whose approval ratings have fallen to the high 30s in part because of his sluggish action after Katrina.
Bush and others in his administration said no one could have planned for a disaster of that magnitude, but they were warned by the government's hurricane experts before Katrina hit that it would be devastating and decades of studies had predicted the same for a major hurricane that hit New Orleans.
Part of the blame also fell on what some called the erratic leadership of New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. But Bush eventually took responsibility and the response to Rita was considered improved. So far, Congress has approved $62 billion in mostly short-term relief aid, and estimates put the cost of rebuilding at up to $200 billion.
Many of the hardest-hit areas in Katrina were poor and thousands of people didn't have a way to evacuate before the storm. Even when residents could heed evacuation orders, there still were problems: the millions of people fleeing the Houston area ahead of Rita clogged highways for up to 100 miles, with many cars getting stranded after the ran out of gas.
Bush ordered the Homeland Security Department to review disaster plans for every major metropolitan area. The reviews will begin after all 50 states and 75 large cities report on their disaster plans by Jan. 17, officials said. FEMA is also pledging to modernize itself to better manage the flow of personnel and supplies.
"We've got a lot of issues to deal with at FEMA. We have to make it a much more nimble, more adaptable organization. ... We've got good people in place to make it happen," said R. David Paulison, FEMA's acting director.
"As long as I'm here, I can tell you, we will not have another Superdome," he said.
Officials are also debating how to strengthen the fragile levees in New Orleans, whose population is about a third of what it was before Katrina.
The president also floated the idea of having the military take charge in a disaster of a certain size, although his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and other state officials have said disaster response should be controlled at the local level.
Many Americans themselves also were responsible for problems. Polls found that a majority of Americans said they are no better prepared for a disaster than they were before Katrina.
The surveys also found that most people will rely on state and local officials in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist attack or natural disaster, despite governments' pleas for residents to be prepared to survive on their own for three days after a catastrophe.
That was evident after Wilma hit South Florida. Thousands failed to evacuate or stock up on food, water and other supplies, and long lines of angry people formed for essentials the day after the storm hit.
Paulison said that FEMA will be more active in urging people to prepare for catastrophes. But with the prospect of more busy hurricanes seasons in the future, some have already learned their lessons.
"Next time they say evacuate, I'm gone," said Tracy Haywood, 38, of New Orleans, who spent three days stranded on a roof during the storm before being rescued.
Associated Press writer Connie Mabin and Kevin McGill in New Orleans and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.
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