6/10/2007 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

Who are the fools who, after seeing the tragic results of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and Wilma, would defy officials’ orders to evacuate? Call me a sissy, but I don’t understand these people.
Pub Date

Well, it’s that time of year again: the season of the hurricane, the “big wind,” the “evil spirit.”
As a Florida native, I know a lot about the “Hurukan,” as the Mayans are said to have referred to this big storm. Also as a Florida native, I have a healthy fear of hurricanes. My mother used to say: “I don’t mess around with hurricanes.” I’m just like her.
When the unflappable Max Mayfield, former director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said it was time to evacuate, I evacuated. I know that our luck here in the Tampa Bay area is running out.
The Big One is going to hit us one day.
A few weeks ago, I heard on National Public Radio that many residents on Florida’s Gulf Coast said they will not evacuate even after officials order them to do so. Who, I asked myself, are these damned fools who would defy orders to evacuate after seeing the tragic results of Katrina and Rita and Wilma?
I don’t understand these people. Call me a sissy. My hurricane experiences go far back, some unique. I rode out a hurricane for a newspaper column. I flew into the eye of a hurricane for a column.
On Sept. 16, 1945, one month before I was born in Fort Lauderdale, a hurricane struck the area and badly scared my mother. She swore that she passed her fear of hurricanes on to me in the womb. On Oct. 7, 1946, another storm swept South Florida. The same thing happened a year later in September, again in October and again the next year.
And in 1960, my family and I fled to Lake County when Donna pummeled the Keys. Little did we know that the storm would turn eastward, hitting us with its fury in Mascotte where we had gone. Winds tossed cars and mobile homes into the air, knocked down bridges and washed out roads. Even conventional homes were pushed to strange locations.
In 1985, I lived in Bronson when Elena pounded Cedar Key and uprooted blackjack oaks in my yard. I went to high ground when Floyd threatened in 1987. When Andrew struck south Dade in 1992, I wrote a column about the storm for the Gainesville Sun. I had never seen such devastation. I will never forget the sign – “Damn you, Andrew” – spray-painted on the lone concrete block wall, the last remaining relic of what had been an attractive house in Homestead. One of my relative’s homes was destroyed in nearby Florida City.
As I took pictures in the rubble, I imagined the human carnage that would’ve occurred if Andrew had meandered 15 miles farther north into downtown Miami.
I was living in Tuscaloosa, Ala., when Katrina struck Mobile, New Orleans and other gulf cities. Although I didn’t feel the direct force of Katrina, I got a sense of its devastation when I saw many of the Louisiana evacuees who found shelter at the University of Alabama.
Several months before my mother died, Hurricane Wilma badly damaged her home in Fort Lauderdale. Hundreds of miles away in Tuscaloosa, I was afraid she would stay put and try to protect her lifetime of family mementos and photographs. I was relieved that she still had enough presence of mind to have kept her old fear of hurricanes. She agreed to go to my sister’s better-constructed house.
Last year, Florida, the most hurricane-battered state in the nation, got a bye. Not a single hurricane struck the U.S. Atlantic Coast. This year, though, Colorado State University forecaster William Gray predicts that 17 named storms will form, five of them major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or higher. The probability of one hitting the United States, with Florida high on the list, is 74 percent.
So, again, I ask: Who are these foolhardy people who plan to ignore the warnings?
To everyone, especially newcomers to the Sunshine State who never experienced a hurricane, I say log on to this Web site: Here, you will find ample hurricane preparation information through Nov. 30.