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Expert warns that no one can be safe in a hurricane

Although he has a hard time convincing his friends and family in South Florida, Bob Sheets insists that last year was a mild hurricane season.

"As a nation, we really were extremely lucky," he said. "And then there was one called Andrew."

Sheets, the director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, spoke to more than 150 residents Thursday night at the city's third hurricane awareness meeting at City Hall.

Mayor Anita Protos spoke about the severe storm in March and its effect on the area.

"With the storm that we did have, the devastation was heavy," she said. "I hope and pray to God that we never have to see something worse."

Sheets said although he doesn't make predictions, Florida could be following the pattern of the 1940s when a major hurricane hit almost every year.

"Maybe we're entering that era again, and the problem you're going to have here is the thing that makes this area so attractive _ the water," he said.

A 20-minute video, Hurricane. It's Not Just Another Storm, showed footage from Hurricane Hugo and highlighted the steps necessary for evacuation and risk management. "No house is hurricane-proof no matter how well-constructed," warned the video.

After the video, Sheets showed slides taken after Hurricane Andrew. He showed before and after pictures of houses and buildings, explaining that although a well-built home is important, a hurricane's strength can destroy even the strongest foundation.

"Big hurricanes are rare events, but the consequences of not being prepared can be catastrophic.

"After it was over, Andrew was the third strongest hurricane to strike the U.S. in this century," he said. "And yet, we were lucky in some ways. Andrew didn't even make the top 20 in terms of loss of life."

A panel of city officials accompanied Sheets to answer questions.

Assistant Fire Chief Harry Leonard urged residents to plan their evacuation route ahead of time and to leave early.

"You must make the decision to leave now and you must go before everyone else does," he said. "And hey, what if that baby takes a left-hand or a right-hand turn, doesn't hit the area and you're up in North Carolina? Hey, have a nice vacation."

Even at the end of the almost three-hour-long meeting, people stayed to talk individually with the panel members.

Jodi Bartolini, 12, of Dunedin said she went only because her mother made her but decided the meeting wasn' boring.

"It taught me a lot of stuff that I didn't know about," she said. "I was thinking that we should evacuate if a hurricane ever comes. Before I didn't think it was a good idea, but after seeing that film about Miami, I changed my mind."