Editorial: Guarantee in storms is unlikely

Jun 20, 2008

News-Press--June 20, 2008


Hurricanes, and the threat of hurricanes, make living in Florida a gamble, forcing residents to choose the risk level they’re comfortable with.

The foolhardy fail to stockpile basic hurricane kits. The wiser and more cautious build kits, while also protecting their windows and doors.

But both groups face the same question when a storm is imminent: To flee, or not to flee?

Those who’d pick the former are forewarned: You might not find any public accommodations.

Lee County statistics show hurricane shelters are 47,000 spaces short of what the county needs in a Category 3 storm. The shortage for a Category 4 or 5 hurricane is 96,779 spaces.

There are no easy solutions. Building for the sole purpose of hurricane shelters isn’t pragmatic. Retrofitting existing buildings would cost at least $470 million, and there’s a shortage of inland properties that would qualify.

Fortunately, no one seeking refuge has been turned away yet. But only 7 percent of evacuees during Hurricane Wilma went to a public shelter. That percentage is likely to grow as the population increases and residents become more aware of the damage severe hurricanes can cause.

Public shelters should be a final option. Refuge with family or friends outside of harm’s way, or in similarly-located hotels and motels, are more comfortable choices. Business owners with appropriate structures can help, too, by opening the space to employees and their families.

The county should do its best to find more shelter space, but residents can’t count on it.

That’s part of the gamble in living here.