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Hurricane season begins, GEMA encourages preparedness

By Johnny Jackson

jjackson@henryherald.com

Many in metro Atlanta are recovering from storms last month that left several area residents with significant damage to their homes.

Georgia residents affected by tornadoes that tore through the state in May have been approved for more than $600,000 in federal disaster aid.

About 3,300 victims of the Mother's Day tornadoes have filed for help with medical and dental expenses, lost belongings, repair to homes, and businesses and funeral costs, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The May 11-12 severe storms killed three people and caused more than $125 million in damage. Afterward, Gov. Sonny Perdue declared a state of emergency in 13 counties. Ten of those counties are eligible for federal assistance. Residents in affected counties can file for federal aid until July 21.

Late last month, roughly 1,300 homes were impacted by a line of storms that stretched statewide. At least thirty-five counties reported large hail and wind damage during the storms.

Some see those storms as an ominous preface to an equally active 2008 hurricane season. Forecasters are predicting that eight hurricanes will develop in the Atlantic this year. Four of them are expected to be major hurricanes with winds of more than 111 miles per hour.

The forecast for the Atlantic Hurricane Season, lasting from June 1 - Nov. 30, calls for an active season of 15 named storms. Off-shore storm activity has increased from an average 7 named storms between the years 1971 and 1994, to an average of 14.5 since 1995, eight of which were hurricanes.

"Conditions in the tropical Atlantic look quite favorable for an active hurricane season," said Phil Klotzbach, a forecaster at Colorado State University.

Last June, the Colorado State forecast team predicted 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes, five of them major. The year produced 14 named storms, including six hurricanes, two of them major.

The team used a new statistical model this year, which they say has shown considerable improvement over the previous model.

The team said there is a 69 percent chance that at least one major hurricane will make landfall somewhere on the U.S. coastline, compared to the long-term average probability of 52 percent.

There is also a 45 percent chance, according to the research team, that a major hurricane will make landfall on the East Coast, including the Florida Peninsula. The long-term average is 31 percent.

Coastal residents and inland Georgians should pay close attention to weather brewing off-shore, said Ken Davis, spokesman for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA).

"Prepare, plan, and stay informed," Davis said. "The force of a hurricane can push well inland and it can cause a lot of damage, both wind and water, that can result in long-term power outages. If we're without power for a number of days, or weeks even, that can cause problems.

"The key is to be prepared enough to take care of yourself and your family for at least 72 hours," he said. "The other key is assembling that natural disaster survival kit."

Davis advises that residents have a cache of water and other if-needed personal affects, such as disposable diapers, prescription medications, pet supplies. People should keep a gallon of water per person, for each of three days, for their household, and use half a gallon as drinking water and half for personal hygiene each day.

Everyone should also have a stash of supplies, such as extra batteries, flash lights, first-aid kits, and a portable radio, preferably a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) radio.

"You need some contact with the outside world," Davis said. "And you can do that through a NOAA radio, an all-hazards radio."

Residents should also prepare for severe weather by backing up their contact lists and other critical (electronic or hard copy) information at an off-site location.

"Even if you're insured to the hilt, it really is a devastating blow to have your home or neighborhood destroyed by severe weather ..." he said.

GEMA has initiated a campaign to help Georgians become prepared for such emergencies and disasters. Its Ready Georgia campaign is the state's resource on preparing for hurricanes, and can help all Georgians get ready.

"The reason we initiated this campaign is because most people think they are prepared [for an emergency or disaster], but we find that they are not," Davis said.

"I encourage people not to delay," he said. "Being prepared can mean the difference between you and your family being survivors or victims in an disaster."

The Associated Press Contributed to this article.

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On the net:

Ready Georgia Campaign: www.ready.ga.gov

Georgia Emergency Management Agency: www.gema.ga.gov