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What we learned from Hurricane Irma
May 17, 2018

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Due to the possibility of pre-season tropical storm formation in the Gulf this year, our annual be-prepared editorial is a little ahead of the official start of hurricane season.

But what we learned from Hurricane Irma, whose projected path drifted hither and yon across the state before making landfall near Marco Island before blowing through Lee County, is that: 1) Scientific method can project, but not predict, and 2) You can't be too prepared or prepare too soon.

Hurricane Irma ultimately resulted in the ordered evacuation of some 300,000 residents, 35,000 of whom sought refuge in one of the 14 county hurricane shelters opened to house those in need of a safe place to weather the storm.

Many homes suffered roof damage and many - unexpectedly, perhaps, as they were inland in areas such as Lehigh - incurred damage from flood waters that also closed streets and roadways.

Lee County put early damage estimates at $742 million countywide with the county itself ultimately expending about $50 million - $38 million in debris removal alone. Damage and the related costs of cleanup and recovery was estimated at $17.6 million for the city of Cape Coral while the school district put its estimate at $25 million. Statewide, insured damage estimates topped $8.6 billion when all was said and done.

Individually, too many of our neighbors are still waiting for needed repairs to seawalls or roofs, either because they remain in the contractor queue or are still fighting FEMA or their insurance company over damage claims.

Forecasters are predicting a "slightly above average" hurricane season this year, so let us offer a third lesson learned from Hurricane Irma: It only takes one storm - and not a particularly bad one - to wreak havoc and impact our lives and pocketbooks.

As many as 14-18 named storms are predicted this year. Forecasters are predicting at least seven will become hurricanes. The nation's average "season," which begins June 1, sees 12 named storms and six hurricanes, three of them Category 3 or greater.

With hurricane season just a couple of weeks away, officials on the national, state and local level again urge residents to be prepared, not complacent.

As always, public awareness and preparedness are the best defenses against a hurricane, they say.

What does "preparedness" mean?

Let us share the perennial tips we offer each year:

It means it's time to gather documents, compile supplies and put together evacuation plans.

It's time to stockpile certain goods, including water and non-perishable food and snacks to last three to seven days; a non-electric can opener, paper plates and utensils that won't need to be washed; flashlights and other portable, self-powered light sources; batteries; medications; and ice chests.

Officials also suggest we ready portable and NOAA weather-band radios and waterproof tarps, and that we make sure we have containers of fuel for propane grills or portable generators.

Storm shutters or plywood for windows remain a good idea for battening down the hatches if and when a watch is issued.

If ordered to evacuate, we should all have important papers, Social Security cards, immunization records, cash and prescription medications at the ready along with special supplies for children, and carriers and food for any pets.

For more information on getting prepared, we invite you to visit cape-coral-daily-breeze.com where we have posted our annual Hurricane Guide.

It is accessible under "news" or via a "flip book" under "e-editions." All of the information provided by Lee County Emergency Management and other sources will be available on-line all season. This year's book also includes "what we learned from Hurricane Irma stories" shared by local residents and businesses.

As the season progresses, we will keep you updated in both in print and on-line. We also invite you to sign up for Facebook notifications, which will provide you with updates as they are received by The Breeze newsroom. The icon to sign up also can be found on the top right hand of our homepage - just click on the Facebook button and then select "like" to stay informed.

Be prepared.

Be safe.

And may this "above average" season pass without even the threat of a repeat of last year.

- Breeze editorial

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