Hurricane Season Ends Without a Single U.S. Strike
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
That sound you hear coming from the Southeastern United States is a collective sigh of relief. Today is the end of the 2006 hurricane season. After two seasons in which the U.S. was hit by 11 hurricanes, this year people along the Gulf Coast were prepared for the worst. As it turned out, not a single hurricane hit the U.S. this season. Even so, NPR's Greg Allen reports that many people in south Florida and along the Gulf Coast still have hurricanes very much on their minds.
GREG ALLEN: You'll have to forgive Mercedes La Chica(ph) if she's not celebrating the end of the 2006 hurricane season. That's because, like thousands of people in Florida and elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, she's still trying to recover from 2005. More than a year after Hurricane Wilma, her condo is still a construction zone.
Ms. MERCEDES LA CHICA (Hurricane Victim): They've got to re-glaze my tub because they damaged that. They didn't put the toilets back yet.
ALLEN: This is another bedroom, I guess.
Ms. LA CHICA: This is a - yeah. This is a spare bathroom. This is the living room.
(Soundbite of machinery)
ALLEN: Work is going slowly here at the Sunrise Lakes Retirement Community, north of Fort Lauderdale. More than half of the 3,000 condos in this section are still uninhabitable. For La Chica, her friends and neighbors, the last year has been a series of trials: temporary quarters, disputes with insurance companies, missed contractor deadlines, unexpected expenses.
Ms. LA CHICA: I mean I come over here sometimes and I just look, you know, and try to remember what it was like. I feel comfortable, but then I start thinking of all the things I have to do and then I get like an anxiety attack.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALLEN: La Chica and her neighbors say they weren't worried by this year's hurricane season because their homes couldn't be damaged any worse than they already were.
Across the Gulf Coast there are many in similar situations. In Mississippi, more than 30,000 families are still in FEMA travel trailers. Director of the state Emergency Management Agency, Mike Womack, says for those folks and others just beginning to rebuild, this year's relief from hurricanes has been a godsend.
Mr. MIKE WOMACK (Director, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency): You just can't understand how fortunate we are in the state of Mississippi, and Louisiana and Alabama as well. The fact that we didn't have a storm just made it so much better, certainly aided in our recovery efforts tremendously.
ALLEN: This year has also provided relief to state and federal emergency response budgets. The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it only spent $60 million on hurricane relief this season, mostly related to flooding from Ernesto. Compare that to last year, when Katrina, Rita, and Wilma combined for a whopping $38.8 billion price tag.
Florida Emergency Management head Craig Fugate says because of the experience of the last two years, Floridians take hurricane preparedness seriously.
Mr. CRAIG FUGATE (Director, Florida Emergency Management): The public has gotten more sophisticated about what these storms can do, particularly the folks in south Florida who have been through particularly some of these bigger storms that knocked out a lot of power and caused a lot of inconvenience. And they're not to be trifled with.
ALLEN: Among those most happy about the dearth of hurricanes this year are insurance companies. In Florida, premiums for homeowners and businesses have risen dramatically, in many cases doubling over the last year. With no hurricanes this year, many companies are registering record profits. Even so, industry spokesman Sam Miller says don't look for rates to come down anytime soon.
Mr. SAM MILLER (Spokesman, Florida Insurance Council): One year does a lot of good but it doesn't produce a magic reduction in rates. We didn't get here in a year and we won't get out of here in a year.
ALLEN: Miller, with the Florida Insurance Council, says the industry looks at long-term weather projections in setting rates. Based on that information, he says insurance companies expect some $3 billion in hurricane-related losses each year as long as the current cycle continues. Another few years like this one, Miller says, and insurance rates could start to improve. That may also be the case with tourism.
Even though it received nothing close to the hurricane damage sustained in Louisiana and Mississippi, Florida saw fewer visitors this summer, and tourism officials say they'll have to work to counter concerns about hurricanes.
But wherever you go in south Florida, you'll meet people like Anne Griffin(ph), who says she doesn't worry about hurricanes. On a typically beautiful fall Florida day, a light breeze, temperatures in the 70s, Griffin was loading plants into her car at a Home Depot. She says, who wouldn't want to live here?
Ms. ANNE GRIFFIN: I'm from Puerto Rico. I've lived with hurricanes all my life. They go in cycles. But you can go next year and you're not going to have a hurricane. You don't have to move to North Carolina.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALLEN: One thing is clear. It will take more than two years of hurricanes to discourage people from moving here. After 2005 and 2006 more than 400,000 people a year move to Florida, making it, hurricanes or not, one of the fastest growing states in the nation.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.