State of emergency

One Tampa Bay News Channel 8 anchor put it best at the top of the newscast: “Here we go again.”

As Hurricane Frances makes its way toward the east coast of Florida, communities still recovering from Hurricane Charley may have to board up again. It’s a devastating blow to those in the Central Florida area who can’t bear to lose anything else.

Some forecasters have said Charley was merely a warm-up for Frances, adding that the impending hurricane has the potential to be worse than Andrew. The state learned all too well that you can’t predict Mother Nature. And since Charley spared Tampa and tore up homes and land in communities east of the Bay area, more importance has been placed on the “cone,” that wide range that meteorologists say the path of the storm could take.

Fortunately, the public responded well when Charley came through less than a month ago. When evacuation orders went out, most people listened. Pinellas County alone saw the largest evacuation in its history, with more than 300,000 people leaving their homes. Though Charley took a last-minute detour, few people complained about the inconvenience.

The last time a major hurricane hit Tampa Bay directly was in 1921. Most people in Tampa today weren’t around then to witness the destruction; so, hurricane forecasters worried that Tampa Bay residents would suffer from hurricane amnesia. But people listened. They bought every bottle of water within miles, pumped every last gallon of gas, and turned the Howard Frankland Bridge into a parking lot during evacuation.

Counties along the East Coast have already started issuing evacuation times for Frances. Gov. Jeb Bush declared a state of emergency for all of Florida, Wednesday night.

That means, depending on the storm’s ultimate path, Tampa Bay could turn into a place of refuge.

Let’s hope Frances doesn’t play the same cruel trick that Charley did. When evacuees followed directions and headed east to outrun Charley, the hurricane followed.

We should heed the lesson and not feel as if we’re out of the path of Frances’s fury. Like our neighbors to the east, we should prepare for this hurricane. Most of you probably still have supplies from last month’s scare. Stay tuned to the most current information about the hurricane and don’t do anything that will put your life in jeopardy.

Disaster relief agencies have said they have the resources to deal with two major hurricanes like this. Time will tell if they’re right.

But one thing that struck me the most during the early days after Charley was the look on people’s faces when they saw those not affected by the tragedy show up with food and offer help in cleaning up debris. The American Red Cross has said again and again that it prefers to receive money from individuals. The agency can then buy things in bulk at a cheaper rate. Money is good. But don’t forget to give of your time, too.

Busloads of volunteers have gone to the hardest-hit counties to help trim trees and pile up metal. If the same assistance is needed after Frances, do what you can to make life a little more bearable for the victims.

The National Weather Service has predicted 12 to 15 tropical storms this year, with six to eight becoming hurricanes, and two to four of those being major — that is, category 3, 4 or 5.

Hurricane season isn’t over until the end of November. The worst could be far from over.

Kevin Graham is a former Oracle Editor in Chief.