Many Floridians stock up for storms
Published: Thursday, June 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 31, 2006 at 10:45 p.m.
TAMPA - Like many longtime Florida residents, Brian Schnieders didn't take hurricane preparations too seriously until the parade of devastating storms began two summers ago.
With the beginning of a new storm season a day away, Schnieders stopped into a Tampa Home Depot store Wednesday to look at generators and pick up a couple plastic gas cans, taking advantage of the state sales tax holiday for hurricane gear and a matching discount from the store.
"I'm trying to get the stuff out of the way that was difficult to find last time," the 46-year-old construction company CFO said. "The plywood is in the garage now. I've never had that in 21 years (living in Florida)."
After two of the most destructive hurricane seasons on record and forecasts calling for an active six-month season this year, indications are that Floridians are taking hurricane preparation more seriously than ever.
Home improvement chains Home Depot and Lowe's reported healthy increases over last year of people buying hurricane supplies during the 12-day sales tax holiday ends today. Both retailers erected displays at the front of their stores with products ranging from generators and portable TVs to flashlights and batteries of all sizes.
"Everything that the state of Florida put on the tax-free list has been a huge hit with our customers," said Dan Brown, a Lowe's district manager for Dade and Broward counties. The biggest sellers: generators, gas cans and hurricane shutters.
"Customers, I think, have really wised up during the past two years in Florida," Brown said. "You don't even have to hand them a list anymore."
"Let's face it,"said Home Depot spokesman Don Harrison, " '04 and '05 in terms of hurricane seasons were a couple of pretty big wake-up calls."
At a Miami Home Depot on Wednesday, Jose Becerra was buying accessories to run his generator.
"It wasn't until last year's hurricane season when my family and I decided to prepare for power outages," said Becerra, accompanied by his young son and daughter. "I just purchased a generator the first day of tax-free week, so I saved a lot of money."
"Previous years, we only stocked up on water, food, candles and flashlights, but after last year we decided to be more prepared."
That's probably a good idea.
An updated forecast from researchers at the Colorado State University calls for 17 named storms this year, with nine expected to become hurricanes. Five of those are expected to develop into major hurricanes with sustained winds of 111 mph or greater.
Forecasters with the National Hurricane Center and two other National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration agencies issued a similar prediction, calling for 16 named storms, six of them major hurricanes.
Gov. Jeb Bush said retailers aggressively marketed the sales-tax holiday this year, which raised awareness even more, and the media got the word out.
"To be honest with you, the amount of publicity given to just the preparation for hurricane season this year is unprecedented," Bush said.
"All of the newspapers and all of the TV stations all across the state have done in-depth stories about how to be prepared, why it's important to be prepared. It's kind of heartwarming that everybody realizes how important it is."
Retired Air Force Col. Carl Peterson, who lives on the Callaway Bayou coast in Bay County, went to considerably more trouble preparing for hurricanes this year. He spent $2,100 cutting down pine trees that could fall on the house in a storm, bought a generator and plunked down $15,000 for hurricane shutters.
Peterson has in previous years protected his house with plywood he put up himself. But this year he decided to go with the expensive shutters.
"I've decided I've reached the age I can't be the lonesome pole cat who goes out and does all this stuff," said the 82-year-old Peterson. "So I thank the governor and I thank Lowe's for knocking a whole bunch off the price."
Associated Press writers Damian Grass in Miami, and Andrea Fanta and Bill Kaczor in Tallahassee contributed to this report.
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