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County officials preach safety during hurricane

Leave. Scram. Get out of town.

Don't go to shelters unless you have no other choice.

And in case you become trapped in your home during a hurricane, make sure you've got plenty of fresh water, canned foods and medications to get you through three or four days of self-preservation.

That was the bottom-line advice given by a panel of county officials at a hurricane awareness forum Thursday night at Springstead High School.

The Rev. David Hope of First Baptist Church of Hernando Beach opened the meeting with an invocation.

"If there were no storms that sometimes destroyed our homes, we would not have the wind and rain that cools and soothes our skin," he said.

More than 200 people, a handful of whom lost their homes during the March 13 storm that hit coastal Hernando County, bowed heads in the cafeteria where the Red Cross once served breakfast to flood refugees who had camped out in the gymnasium.

Dave Sloan, county emergency management director, said coastal residents should try to stay with friends inland who don't live in mobile homes or manufactured housing.

"The shelters should be a last resort," Sloan said. "You won't be able to bring your pets. It'll be noisy. There are no beds, no chocolates on the pillow. You'll be sleeping with 1,500 strangers."

Sheriff Thomas Mylander, who grew up in Clearwater, said, "As much as you think you own property in Florida, you don't. Nature owns it, especially on the beach."

He warned against risking lives to save material possessions as a storm approaches. Every minute counts, Mylander said.

"All that other stuff, yeah, it means a lot to us, but if you're not here to enjoy it later, what's the use?"

As Mylander spoke, Roy Leep, veteran meteorologist from WTVT-Ch. 13 in Tampa, arrived. Leep, the forum's special guest speaker, came without his popular small-screen sidekick, Scud the weather dog.

Leep, a Channel 13 meteorologist since 1957, showed slides that included satellite photographs of Hurricane Andrew as it developed, gained strength and whirled across South Florida.

If Andrew had made landfall 20 miles north, Leep theorized, downtown Miami, along with the National Hurricane Center, might have been flattened.

He discussed Florida's run of luck, with so few killer storms. But, he said, Andrew may signal the beginning of a new trend.

"Florida's great luck . . . seems to be changing," Leep said.

The meteorologist echoed Sloan's sentiments, telling the audience not to rely on shelters but also not to seek haven in a mobile home. Mobile homes meet an economic need, Leep said, but repeatedly have been proved unsafe in times of severe weather such as hurricanes and tornadoes.

The audience applauded as Scud appeared in the final slide, wearing a frilly green and yellow costume. Leep smiled.

"Don't forget your pets," he said. "I can tell you, they're part of the family, aren't they? You want to make sure they have a safe place, too."

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