WASHINGTON – Although many people living near the Gulf of Mexico are still recovering from last year's hurricanes,the Red Cross and other organizations are urging residents to prepare in advance for what is predicted to be an active storm season.
This year's hurricane season began June 1,and tropical storm Arlene is predicted to make landfall somewhere from the Florida panhandle to Louisiana over the weekend.
In a conference call with reporters Friday,Red Cross officials said residents in coastal areas are rushing to buy materials in preparation for the season.
But an April survey shows that residents are still not knowledgeable enough about hurricanes and necessary precautions.
Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. found that adults living within 10 miles of a coastline did not score any better than those living inland,and only 20 percent correctly identified storm surge as the greatest threat to life from a hurricane.
The Red Cross offers several training programs through its local branches,said Devorah Goldburg,Red Cross officer of strategic response.
After last year,the Red Cross “went back to the drawing board,” said Chuck Connor the Red Cross' senior vice president for communication and marketing.
“If your child is sick at 2 a.m.,you want help right then and there,not tomorrow,” Connor said.
The organization hopes to position people and equipment in areas likely to get hit as early as possible instead of trying to ship supplies in from out of state after the disaster,he said.
The Red Cross provided shelter to 425,000 people in Florida in the aftermath of last year's hurricanes,Connor said. In many Florida counties,including Charlotte County north of Naples,houses still have tarps on their roofs.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting 12 to 15 tropical storms this year,seven to nine of which could become hurricanes,and three to five could become major hurricanes,according to the agency's Web site.
Preparedness is key,and residents need to know what they need and where they are going to go in the case of a disaster,said Joe Becker,senior vice president of preparedness and response for the Red Cross.
“People can't be packing when they should be evacuating,” Becker said.
Home supply stores such as Lowe's Home Improvement are also trying to assist residents,offering in-store clinics about preparing homes for disasters.
The store has seen “brisk” sales,as many people living in coastal states have bought plywood,batteries and flashlights,among other items,during a state sales tax holiday and while the chain is having a sale,said Jim Frasso,senior vice president of store operations in the southeastern division,who took part in the conference call.
While the Red Cross aims to help people with their immediate needs,such as food and shelter,in the time of a disaster,Federal Emergency Management Agency helps people with longer-term needs,such as home repair,grants and loans,Connor said.
Federal disaster assistance to Florida totaled more than $5.3 billion through June 3,according to a FEMA press release. Palm Beach,Polk and Escambia counties are among the Florida counties receiving the most aid.