A Hurricane Learning Curve

Rain-soaked and wind- ravaged residents of Florida have at least one thing to be grateful for as they cope with the effects of hurricane Frances while still mopping up after hurricane Charley: They've been cured of "hurricane amnesia," as Gov. Jeb Bush has noted.

The state's East Coast hadn't been hit by a hurricane since 1999. That, and the fact that Florida hasn't had its historic share of such storms in recent decades, has led to some complacency about their effects.

Coastal real estate development - another regular Florida phenomenon - has gone on unabated, increasing insurance liabilities and leaving more people at risk. Since hurricane Andrew in 1992, insurance coverage for hurricanes has shrunk, with more of the onus being placed on homeowners, who must seriously consider the force of these storms when choosing to relocate in their possible path.

Now the insurance industry, and Floridians, will have to pay for the damage to homes and businesses, including the citrus industry. Early estimates for the combined cost of both storms run between $10 and $40 billion.

Still, preparation and response for both Charley and Frances has been impressive. Some 2.5 million residents obligingly evacuated low-lying areas. The Red Cross mobilized 7,000 volunteers for the largest disaster response in its history. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent checks to residents affected by Charley within 24 hours of their being hit. Looting, so far, has been minimal. Power companies were restoring electricity; even Disney World opened Monday.

Anther hurricane looms in the Atlantic and may hit the US by next week. Floridians have learned many lessons quickly about preparing for these storms. Perhaps they should ask how to manage the state's growth better, with the possibility of more frequent hurricanes.

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