Schooled by the repeated pummeling of the 2004 hurricane season, residents of the Gulf Coast braced for Hurricane Dennis with wisdom born of experience. Thousands secured homes, packed essential supplies and moved to safe shelter as soon as authorities issued evacuation notices.
Meanwhile, the American Red Cross was prepared to do its part, opening an estimated 180 shelters and serving more than 45,000 meals and snacks in two days, from the panhandle of Florida through affected portions of Alabama and Mississippi.
While half a million people along the Gulf Coast now face the affects of structural damage, flooding and loss of electrical power, the toll remains a fraction of that inflicted by Hurricane Ivan, when it plowed into the same region in September 2004.
"There's no such thing as a 'mild' disaster," said Keith Robertory, Disaster Preparedness Expert for the American Red Cross. "But as we look at the human toll of this storm, we can take great comfort in the fact that death and injuries have apparently been kept to a minimum. We believe this is due, in some measure, to people being prepared. They learned some lifesaving lessons from last year's storms."
While Hurricane Dennis tapered in intensity as it struck the Gulf Coast and rapidly lost power as it moved inland, its 100-plus mile-per-hour winds still packed dangerous potential.
"Lives were undoubtedly saved by people taking shelter in a timely fashion," Robertory said.
Another lesson learned by many is the importance of the family communication plan. The Red Cross encourages everyone to have a family communication plan for use in any kind of emergency. Every member of the family should know how to contact a pre-arranged relative or friend, to report on their whereabouts and safety.
Robertory also noted: "Anxiety about loved ones only multiplies the stress of an emergency. And, when utilities are affected, sometimes making contact outside the impacted area is the easiest way to reunite families."
This year's hurricane season is off to an early start with named storms arriving more than a month earlier than the record-setting 2004 hurricane season.
"Listen to your local emergency authorities," advised Robertory. "And rely on your local American Red Cross chapter for preparedness advice, as well as shelter, food and recovery assistance in the wake of whatever emergency strikes next."
Eilene E. Guy is an American Red Cross disaster public affairs volunteer from Sandusky, Ohio.
- American Red Cross
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