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June 1 officially kicks off the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season and already, there’s a tropical storm churning

By Staff | May 31, 2008

For the 2008 hurricane season, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association predicts 12 to 16 named storms, six to nine hurricanes and two to five major hurricanes (category 3 or higher). That’s near or above average, they said.

Hurricane season starts officially Saturday and runs through Nov. 30. However, that didn’t stop Tropical Storm Alma from showing up a few days early (though technically, the Pacific season begins a bit earlier than the more commonly referred Atlantic season: May 15). On Wednesday, Alma formed in the Pacific near Costa Rica, initially called tropical depression One-E, said forecasts of the National Weather Service.

By Friday morning Alma was travelling north by northwest at 10 miles per hour with maximum winds of 25 miles per hour, expected to produce 10 to 15 inches of rain in the areas of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Belize, said the NWS. At its peak strength, Alma produced 65 mile per hour winds.

Despite that, the NWS says Alma will dissipate over Central America and forecasts of affected areas don’t include the United States, Alma serves as a reminder that hurricane season has officially arrived.

With the past two seasons relatively inactive for Floridians, apathy has had a chance to set in regarding hurricane preparedness.

“Unfortunately, there are people who do become complacent,” said Cape Coral Fire Chief Bill Van Helden. “Remember, Hurricane Andrew happened during a slow season.”

A Mason-Dixon poll of coastal residents across the United States confirms Van Helden’s suspicions: “On the heels of two mild storm seasons, Americans in Gulf and Atlantic coastal states are still complacent and unprepared for hurricanes…”

Of 1,100 adults polled within 300 miles of eastern and gulf coast areas, 54 percent don’t feel vulnerable to storms, 56 percent don’t have a family disaster plan, 67 percent don’t have a hurricane kit, 85 percent haven’t done anything to strengthen their homes since the last hurricane season and 13 percent wouldn’t evacuate even if ordered to.

“Hurricane season is a reality,” said Lee County Emergency Management Chief of Planning Gerald Campbell. “Everybody needs to have a personal safety plan. We worry about complacency; people may have misconceptions about hurricanes.”

Campbell suggests gathering supplies early, bringing homes up to current building codes for wind resistance and realizing the threat of storm surge — the water pushed by a hurricane that causes rapid rising tides and flooding.

“A home probably won’t survive a surge,” he said.

Lee County faces the possibility of tides rising up to 28 feet above sea level from storm surge, causing inundation of the area well past Interstate 75, Campbell said.

Also important is having an evacuation plan. Shelters are a safe place to be but should be a last resort, said Campbell.

“Have a place to go, know when to go, know how to get there,” he said.

If possible, plan to stay with a family member or friend outside the affected area of the storm, or stay at a motel.

Additionally, pets should not be left behind during an evacuation.

“If it’s too dangerous for you to be there, it’s too dangerous for your pet,” Campbell said.

Florida Agriculture and Consumer Services recommends the following of pet owners:

n keep ID tags and vaccinations up to date.

n Bring identification and health papers for your animals when evacuating.

n Prepare an evacuation pet kit with a week supply of food and water, a manual can opener, medications, medical records, a pet carrier and bedding.

n Check hotel policies along your evacuation route regarding animals.

“Having a pet plan in place will provide people with one less worry when they are getting ready for a storm or other emergency. We have seen many animals separated from their families during disasters and it’s important to take steps to prevent this from happening,” said FACS Commissioner Charles H. Bronson.

For those in mandatory evacuation areas who are unable to evacuate their pets, South Fort Myers High School, located at 14020 Plantation Road in Fort Myers, will shelter those animals, said Campbell.

Lee County Animal Services also recognizes the importance of pet preparedness in the event of a hurricane, and has lowered the price for a pet microchip from $25 to $15 for the months of June and July. The chip helps a shelter or veterinarian who may have found a lost pet identify the owner, according to LCAS spokesperson Ria Brown.

Additionally, pet hurricane kits are available through LCAS for $40 beginning in June, and will include first-aid items, as well as additional items for weathering a disaster with your pet and emergency information for making plans for pets. To learn more about making your own hurricane pet kit visit leelostpets.com or call 533-7387.

For more general information on preparing your family for a hurricane, you can pick up a free hurricane DVD from the Cape Coral Fire Department at 815 Nicholas Parkway E. or Cape Coral City Hall at 1015 Cultural Park Boulevard.

The Lee County All-Hazard Guide also available at the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce, county libraries and post offices and the Cape Coral Emergency Operations Center.

Readers also can get access to complete information on-line at cap-coral-daily-breeze.com where the Breeze Newspapers preparedness book is posted.

“The threat is very real; People need to know how to protect their family at the appropriate time,” said Chief Van Helden.