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Residents turn to experts as storm season begins

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Published:   |   Updated: June 1, 2013 at 05:50 PM
TAMPA -

Robert and Lonrita Hodges realized how unprepared they were for hurricane season as they moved among emergency management experts Saturday.

The couple from Riverview said they had no idea what their best evacuation route is, and they hadn't even started gathering food and water for a survival kit.

“We are not as prepared as we should be,” Robert Hodges said. “We need a checklist to make sure we have supplies and necessities. This is creating a sense of urgency.”

The Hodges learned what steps they needed to take to stay safe when they attended this year's Tampa Bay Hurricane Expo at the Museum of Science and Industry. The expo ran from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, the first day of the Atlantic hurricane season.

Forecasters with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are predicting an above-normal and active hurricane season of 13 to 20 named storms, seven to 11 hurricanes and three to six major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

Hurricane season ends Nov. 30.

Some residents attending Saturday's expo at the museum, 4801 E. Fowler Ave., said they went to the event to get tips from experts. Others were there to double-check that they truly were ready for what appears to be a busy storm season.

“I'm learning about what I need,” said Jessica Kociara, who moved to Tampa from New York two years ago. “Right now, we have a kit at home and we know where our closest shelter is.”

Kociara said she got serious about getting her family ready after watching on news reports the devastation that Hurricane Sandy wrought on the Empire State.

“Our old house up there was hit, but not too bad,” she said.

City and county firefighters, police, deputies and emergency management officials were on hand to give residents tips as well as show off equipment used to clear storm damage.

Business owners attended a workshop that helped them formulate a business recovery plan, and local television meteorologists discussed the predictions for this year's hurricane season.

Last year, four major storms made landfall in the United States: hurricanes Isaac and Sandy, and tropical storms Beryl and Debby.

Michael Laughlin of Wimauma was part of a panel on disaster survival and urged residents to take caution no matter how small a storm is.

“You can be expecting a minor storm but it can intensify into a Category 5 hurricane in a short period of time,” Laughlin said.

The National Weather Service ranks the strength of hurricanes from one to five, with five being the strongest -- with the highest wind speeds.

Laughlin told the crowd he had firsthand experience with fierce storms. He survived Hurricane Andrew, which struck Miami, Homestead and Florida City in 1992 and caused $26 billion in damage.

“I had a 150 mph wind blow through my house,” Laughlin said. “I had no generator and I had just bought $400 worth of food.”

Daryl Richardson of Tampa said he has a survival kit at home filled with medical supplies, batteries, bottled water and important phone numbers.

“I also got extra cans of gasoline lying around somewhere,” he said.

Richardson said he has had the kit ready for years and feels that although Tampa has had a few close calls in the past, the city remains a target for a major storm.

“One's coming, eventually,” he said. “We've really been blessed.”

Jason Bush said he has been prepared every year since 2004, when four hurricanes pushed heavy rain and wind over the Tampa area.

“We've got everything -- food, water, flashlights, radios,” Bush said. “And I have all my important documents.”

Bush, like Richardson, said he feels Tampa has been fortunate in dodging so many hurricanes for so long.

“It always seems to go around us, right?” Bush said. “Will one hit us? I have no idea. But it's all a matter of what the man upstairs is planning.”


Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

rreyes@tampatrib.com

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