Friday, May 13, 2005

Central Florida Still Lacks Hurricane Shelter Space

Source: WESH-TV

State Doesn't Have Room To Safely Shelter 400,000 Residents

OCALA, Fla. -- Despite the tens of millions of dollars that Florida has spent over the last six years to make old public buildings into safe hurricane shelters, the state still doesn't have room to safely shelter 400,000 people living in the direct line of a hurricane strike.

Marion County's school board recently spent nearly $39 million building Forest High School, a brand new school that just opened this winter.

Even though students began attending classes, emergency management officials don't consider all the work on the school is complete.

More money must be spent upgrading existing structures there and buying equipment, such as generators, to make it a safe hurricane shelter.

"It will not be a shelter this year, but it will be a shelter in the very near future," said Tom Goforth, Marion County's emergency management coordinator.

Goforth remains frustrated by that lack of safe shelter space available, saying, "It's merely a matter of money."

Goforth's frustration is shared by nearly every other county emergency management director throughout Central Florida.

"I do know that there's a lot of people in the state, as well as the counties, that are fighting for more money in this. But the money stream just hasn't come yet," Goforth said.

Goforth said that some progress has been made. Five years ago, there was a shortage of more than 1 million safe shelter spaces. Now Florida is short only about 400,000 spaces. Every county in Central Florida except Brevard County still has a deficit in hurricane shelter space.

Orange County lacks 7,000 spaces; Seminole County lacks 4,500; Lake County is short 7,000; and Marion County is close to 18,000 short. In the next five years, the state hopes to be caught up completely. County representatives said they hope to reduce their number of shortage spaces by the end of the summer.

But for now, there's still a troubling lack of available shelter space. For example, during last year's Hurricane Jeanne, St. Lucie County asked 50,000 residents to evacuate but only had shelter space for 2,500 people.

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