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Brutal string of hurricanes threatens U.S. once again
Globe and Mail
May 23, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Another worse-than-usual hurricane season threatens, the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned yesterday, as workers in storm-devastated New Orleans work feverishly to rebuild levees destroyed last summer by hurricane Katrina.

In the wake of last year's killer storms -- Katrina's toll now stands at more than 1,800 dead and tens of thousands still homeless -- coastal complacency about hurricane warnings may be a thing of the past.

"One hurricane hitting where you live is enough to make it a bad season," Max Mayfield, the centre's director, said yesterday as he unveiled the predictions for this year.

The Atlantic remains in the middle of a decades-long cycle of intense hurricane activity that follows nearly 20 years of relative quiescence, a period when coastal development surged in Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico. Since 1995, there have been more -- and more powerful -- storms. Between 1995 and 2005, the Atlantic season has averaged 15 named storms, just over eight named hurricanes and four major hurricanes, according to the hurricane centre. Before this latest above-normal cycle, from 1971 to 1994, there were an average of 8.5 named storms, five hurricanes and just over one major hurricane.

Four monster storms hit the United States last year, causing more than $100-billion (U.S.) in damage. The prediction for this year is a season somewhat less devastating than 2005's record of atmospheric violence when the hurricane centre ran out of names as 27 massive storms -- 15 of which developed into hurricanes -- formed in the Atlantic.

"For the 2006 North Atlantic hurricane season, NOAA is predicting 13 to 16 named storms, with eight to 10 becoming hurricanes, of which four to six could become 'major' hurricanes of Category 3 strength or higher," said Vice-Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But 2005 turned out to be far worse than last year's original predictions, both in the number of storms and their severity.

Yesterday, the hurricane centre's experts were stressing the importance of preparedness, a warning that no longer extends just to individual households.

Hurricane Katrina's broad swath of destruction, despite earlier warnings of the potential threat to New Orleans from a major hurricane, also savaged the reputations of three levels of government.

President George W. Bush was widely perceived as slow to grasp the severity of the disaster while hordes of poor black residents were marooned in a stultifying sports dome and hundreds drowned in their homes. A lower-than-expected death toll and a belated but effective federal response failed to salvage the President's reputation.

Democratic presidential hopefuls for 2008 were still citing Katrina this week as evidence of Mr. Bush's ruinous path.

"The damage that he's done to the way America's viewed in the world, the lack of respect for America in the world, what the ongoing conflict in Iraq is doing to America's image, his response to this hurricane on the Gulf Coast . . . is part of a pattern of incompetence," former North Carolina senator John Edwards said.

Katrina's impact was huge, yet in some ways disproportionate. Two summers earlier, nearly twice as many people died -- but only five in Florida -- when tropical storm Jeanne caused massive flooding across impoverished Haiti.

In the United States, a death toll over 1,000 from a storm, coupled with knocking out nearly a quarter of the nation's refining capacity and much of the offshore oil and gas production in the Gulf of Mexico, dominated the agenda for months.

New Orleans may take a decade to rebuild. Much of its population remains a diaspora, scattered across two dozen states in temporary housing or trailers.

A massive effort is under way to rebuild the city's damaged levees, although promises that they would be ready to withstand a Katrina-sized storm when hurricane season officially begins June 1 won't be realized. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers expects work to be complete before August. Meanwhile, a poll this month found barely half of respondents have high confidence that federal emergency authorities can cope with a major hurricane.

The Atlantic season runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The names chosen for 2006 storms are: Alberto, Beryl, Chris, Debby, Ernesto, Florence, Gordon, Helene, Isaac, Joyce, Kirk, Leslie, Michael, Nadine, Oscar, Patty, Rafael, Sandy, Tony, Valerie and William.

Year of the hurricane

Last year was a record breaker for Atlantic weather systems, with 27 named storms and 15 hurricanes - including three that reached the most fierce category. These were the seven most destructive.


Aug. 23-30: Katrina, the most destructive hurricane to strike the U.S. in years, killed at least 1,800 people when it made landfall along the coasts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Alabama. Thousands more were left homeless in what was the costliest storm ever, with estimated damages at $75-billion (U.S.).


July 8-13: Dennis caused at least 42 deaths in Haiti, Cuba, the United States and Jamaica and inflicted an estimated $2.5-billion in property damage.


Sept. 18-26: The U.S. Gulf Coast was evacuated of as many as two million people before Rita struck. Seven people were killed and an estimated $10-billion in damage was inflicted.


Oct. 1-5: The exact toll from hurricane Stan's landfall in Mexico and Central America is unknown, but estimates range from 1,000 to 2,000 after it triggered flooding and landslides.


Sept. 6-17: Ophelia killed two people in Florida and caused an estimated $75-million in damages.


Oct. 15-25: Twenty-two deaths have been directly attributed to Wilma: 12 in Haiti, one in Jamaica, five in Florida and four in Mexico, where major damage to the Yucatan dealt a blow to the tourist industry there.


JULY 11-21: Emily killed six people when it struck the Caribbean, including Grenada. Jamaica and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, including Grenada, Jamaica and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where it causes great damage to local homes and the tourist infrastructure.


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