Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Poll: Gulf coast, East still unprepared for hurricanes


Poll: Gulf coast, East still unprepared for hurricanes

MIAMI (AP) — Many residents along the East and Gulf coasts don't plan to take simple steps to protect themselves and their homes from hurricanes, despite the devastation caused by five hurricanes that struck the United States last year, according to a poll released Monday.

Fifty-six percent of those surveyed said they felt "not too" or "not at all" vulnerable, according to a Mason-Dixon poll. And one in four would do nothing to prepare for a storm, even after a watch or warning was issued.

"We can't afford to wait for a hurricane to get close to prepare," said Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center.

The poll also found that one in four residents believed they could evacuate flood-prone areas 30 minutes to an hour before a hurricane made landfall.

"That is dangerous folly," Mayfield said. Flood-prone roads will likely become impassable, he said. Gridlock could also prevent a last-minute evacuation.

Last year four hurricanes — Charley, Frances, Jeanne and Ivan — struck Florida within six weeks. They were among the six tropical storms and nine hurricanes that formed during the unprecedented 2004 season. Hurricane Alex also struck North Carolina.

Overall, the hurricanes and tropical storms killed 117 people in Florida and more than 3,000 in Haiti. The storms damaged or destroyed one in five Florida homes, along with 90% of those on the Caribbean island nation of Grenada. Property losses were estimated at $42 billion.

Yet 47% of those surveyed had no disaster plan for the hurricane season that begins June 1 and runs through November, the poll found.

"As we look forward, we have to look back," Florida Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said. "People need to prepare now and they don't have their plans ready and we know it."

Jennings said the most troubling finding was the misconceptions about the steps to prepare.

A majority of those surveyed — 54% — thought masking tape could help stop windows from shattering, which is a myth. And 96% didn't know that garage doors were the structural element most likely to fail first in a hurricane.

The telephone poll surveyed 1,100 adults from April 20-26 in 12 coastal states from Maine to Texas. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 points.

The pollsters asked a 20-question test about hurricane related issues. Eighty-nine percent failed the test, and only 2% got the equivalent of a C or better by answering at least 14 questions correctly.

"We hope this poll sends up a flare," said Salvation Army Maj. Steve Hedgren.

The poll was sponsored in part by The National Hurricane Survival Initiative, a collaboration between the National Hurricane Center, the Salvation Army, the Florida Division of Emergency Management and others.