Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Are you ready if the Big One hits? We've been lucky, but we aren't safe

Hurricane Frances is seen in this satellite image taken on Sept. 5, 2004, when it battered Florida’s east coast.

Associated Press (2004)

Hurricane Frances is seen in this satellite image taken on Sept. 5, 2004, when it battered Florida’s east coast.

We're known here in the Tampa Bay area, and not because of our suddenly winning baseball team or the celebrities hobnobbing in our nightclubs.

Weather experts single us out because of our vulnerability to hurricanes. The season officially starts Sunday.

National Hurricane Center director Bill Read can explain why the shape of Florida's west coast and Tampa Bay leaves us literally open to disaster. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator R. David Paulison will tell you about the "serious problem with flooding" the area would have should one hit. And that's just the beginning.

The bottom line: Even though a hurricane has not hit Tampa Bay area in nearly a century, we live in a danger zone.

Here are the reasons why:

Storm surge

Our problem: The floor of the Gulf of Mexico is like a barely tilted shelf that rises gradually to the shore. If a hurricane rages toward land, it will push tons of seawater up that slope. "You get this big force of water coming on shore,'' said Read, of the National Hurricane Center. Water 20 feet or higher could surge into parts of the Tampa Bay area. Beachfront homes would be damaged, but flooding could be even worse in such low-lying areas as Oldsmar and downtown Tampa. Saltwater flooding is a threat even in places like Pinellas Park, where you can't even see the gulf or bay.

Your solution: Know if you are in an evacuation zone and make plans to get out when a storm approaches. Find a friend now who lives on high ground and would be willing to house you (and your family and pets) for a few days. Check your zone online at www.tampabay.com/specials/2008/reports/hurricane-guide/ or contact your county government.

Complacency

Our problem: When it looked like Hurricane Charley was getting ready to obliterate large sections of the Tampa Bay area in 2004, one St. Pete Beach man said he couldn't possibly leave his low-lying apartment because of his "extensive sword collection that's worth a fortune." These are the words of someone who has never endured a real hurricane. There's evidence that too many of us wait too long to get serious about preparing. By then, it can be too late to find a shelter, buy supplies or even get out of town.

Your solution: At very least, take care of two basic needs, which you can work on today. First, devise an evacuation plan. Second, have enough supplies whether you stay home or with a friend. Buy at least three days of nonperishable food, plus flashlights, batteries, a portable radio and any medicine you normally take. Fill water bottles before the storm comes in. These two basics will probably solve 90 percent of your short-term problems if the Big One hits.

Bottlenecks

Our problem: More than 2-million people live in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and they can't all escape on Interstates 75 or 4 at the same time. The nightmare scenario for disaster planners is that many thousands will leave at the same time, clogging bridges, interstates and other highways. In theory, people could be stranded in cars as the storm roars in.

Your solution: If you live in a safe home on high ground, make a plan NOT to evacuate so you won't contribute to traffic. This means you must have a hurricane kit with food, water and medicine for at least three days. If you do need to leave, do so as early as possible. Don't wait until 12 hours before the storm hits. That could be too late.

Lack of shelters

Our problem: Finding enough shelters for everyone who might need one won't be easy. According to Florida's 2008 Statewide Emergency Shelter Plan, the Tampa Bay area still needs: 75,340 beds in Pinellas; 41,467 in Hillsborough; 28,428 in Pasco and 115 in Hernando. Officials say Florida will add another 58,930 beds by the end of 2009, bringing the total to nearly 1.03 million beds.

Your solution: Avoid shelters. If at all possible, make other arrangements, such as staying at a friend's house, staying in your own home if it's safe, or getting a hotel. Shelters should be a last resort.

Special needs

Our problem: Thousands of Tampa Bay residents need extra help because of disabilities, advanced age or a need for medical equipment and special care. The problem will be to make sure this care is available at a time of extreme stress, failing power, and some degree of chaos.

Your solution: If you are disabled or elderly and need help with daily task and have no one to assist you, contact local authorities to see if you can be placed on the special-needs evacuation assistance list. For more information, call these numbers: Pinellas (727) 464-3800, press 1; Hillsborough (813) 272-5900; Pasco (727) 847-8959; Hernando (352) 754-4083; and Citrus County (352) 746-6555.

Are you ready if the Big One hits? We've been lucky, but we aren't safe 05/30/08 [Last modified: Monday, June 2, 2008 1:50pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

  3. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears

    World

    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'

    War

    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  5. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]