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Evacuation zones carve villages into mess

As Charley, Frances and Ivan threatened to buffet her neighborhood, Tracy Flowers had a simple question.

Should she stay or should she go?

"We've been trying to figure out where, exactly, we are" on the county's evacuation map, said Flowers, 34, whose family has lived in Florida four years, three in the Glenfield village of Westchase. "This is all really, really new to us. So we were very nervous when this started to happen to us."

The confusion stemmed from the lack of detail on the county's map. All five evacuation zones run through Westchase, but not every road appears on the map.

As a result, Flowers and many of her neighbors did not know whether emergency officials had ordered them to leave home. Some called their village voting members seeking clarification. After the storms passed, some wrote to the community newsletter expressing their concerns.

Before long, the Westchase Government Affairs Committee stepped up to see if any solution might exist.

In a report to the community, chairman Brian Delamer said some residents had asked the committee to look into having each neighborhood included in one evacuation zone, rather than be split. Villages like Flowers' Glenfield, which covers three zones for its 111 homes, would not be bisected, he noted, possibly making it easier to recognize when to evacuate.

The committee's more likely path, however, could be to try to convince the county to improve its map, Delamer said in an interview.

Even that request has little chance of success, though, because it's impractical, said Dennis LeMonde, Hillsborough County public safety community relations coordinator.

"The problem is, the map would have to be so large it couldn't even be put in the paper," LeMonde said, noting the county had looked into the concept after receiving similar complaints from other neighborhoods. "If they're looking at detail like a street, the map would have to be huge."

As for redrawing evacuation zones, he offered even less hope.

"We don't draw these lines," LeMonde said, explaining that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency have that responsibility.

Moreover, the zone designations come from a complicated formula that involves water depth, topographic and geographic features, and the slope of the body of water's floor, among other things, he added. It's not as simple as just erasing a line and redrawing it elsewhere.

The best answer, LeMonde said, is to educate yourself and prepare accordingly.

"If there's ever a question, they can always call Emergency Management and give their address," he said. "We'd like them to do it before a storm. . . . The last thing they want to do is wait."

And if a storm comes before you check, LeMonde continued, err on the side of caution. Chances are high that the winds and rain that force the evacuation of Zone A will have at least some effect, such as localized flooding, on an adjacent area in Zone B.

Tish Dietrich, voting member for the Glenfield village, said she expected many residents who hadn't paid much attention to which evacuation zone they live in would be re-evaluating.

"We've all been very complacent," Dietrich observed, noting that the series of storms were the first to directly threaten the Tampa Bay area in years. "After seeing the tremendous amount of havoc (Frances) wrought . . . people are taking another look."

That includes Flowers, who is considering buying flood insurance even though her carrier has said she doesn't need it, and her Glenfield neighbor Nancy Fraser Carrier.

Ever since moving to Westchase, Carrier thought she lived in Zone B. Never gave it much thought afterward.

She and her husband, Stuart, stayed put during Charley and toyed with leaving for Frances but didn't. They didn't experience any flooding, and their power remained on throughout.

The coming of Ivan had neighbors boarding their homes, though, something Carrier had not seen before. It made her think about whether her house really is in Zone B.

"We had always assumed we were in B, which we thought wasn't that much of an urgency," she said. "If we do find out we are in A, we have decided if we ever face another one, we are going to leave."

_ Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at (813) 269-5304 or solocheksptimes.com.

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