|Date:||May 31, 2017|
A year after the state was sideswiped by Hurricane Matthew, Florida residents say they’re taking more precautions ahead of Thursday’s start of the hurricane season, a new study has found.
Meanwhile, those who have not yet stocked up on batteries and flashlights can take advantage of a tax holiday this weekend, during which the state’s 6 percent sales tax will be waived on many products that can come in handy during a storm.
Hurricane season begins Thursday and runs through Nov. 30.
The 2017 AAA Consumer Pulse Survey released Wednesday found that 77 percent of Florida residents are making advance preparations for the storm season, a 17 percent increase over 2016.
“Generally, in years that we don’t have [major] storms or don’t have a very active season, the numbers stay relatively stagnant,” said Josh Carrasco, an AAA spokesman. “A lot of that [increase] has to do with a very active hurricane season last year.”
Hurricane Matthew narrowly avoided striking Florida when it passed along the east coast in early October, bringing torrential rain, flooding and widespread power failures. A weaker hurricane, Hermine, made landfall in the Panhandle a month before.
An uptick wasn’t apparent Wednesday at The Home Depot on East Colonial Drive, where business was steady, but batteries were plentiful and other emergency supplies weren’t on prominent display.
However, some customers said they planned to stock up soon.
William Negron, 63, said the havoc wrought by Matthew last year came as no surprise. A longtime Orlando resident, he learned to always be prepared when Hurricane Charley smashed the city in 2004. Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne also struck the region that year.
“I was here when Charley came through,” said Negron, who said he usually makes sure to have a stash of batteries, flashlights and candles. “Charley got a good piece of us.”
Janet Smiley, 69, also cited her experience with Charley in explaining why she prepares by gathering water, canned food and other essentials. In 2004, she was without power for a week, she said.
Florida is a major destination for transplants from other states, many of whom weren’t here when Charley hit. For them, Carrasco said, Matthew may have been an eye-opening experience.
“With all of the new people coming down here, a big portion of the Florida population had never experienced what a major storm looked like or what it was,” he said.
Along with predictions that this year’s storm season could be another busy one, memories of Matthew could boost interest in the state’s Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday, which kicks off Friday at 12:01 a.m. and runs through Sunday.
Items exempt from the state’s sales tax this weekend include ice packs, flashlights, fuel containers, batteries, tarps, tie-down kits, generators and radios, among other common storm purchases. There are some price restrictions, which can be found at FloridaRevenue.com.
Both Smiley and Negron said they would consider making use of the holiday, though neither was aware of it before a reporter asked.
David Lawhorne, a manager at Colonial Ace Hardware, said he is not expecting a flood of customers to take advantage of the holiday. Most people tend to wait until a storm is approaching, he said.
“They wait until the last minute, unfortunately, and I’m giving you 18 years’ worth of perspective here,” said Lawhorne, who said he is guilty of lax preparations, too. “We thought we had batteries laying around the house — and yeah, we did, but they were no good.”
The AAA study reported mixed findings as to whether Floridians are ready to leave home in the event of an evacuation. About 82 percent said they would do so if ordered, but, of those, 58 percent said they would only leave if the storm wereCategory 3 or higher.
The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in May predicted an above-average hurricane season in 2017, with 11 to 17 named storms, including five to nine hurricanes, two to four of which the agency forecast would be major hurricanes.
Buying supplies is only one element of preparation, Carrasco said, which should also include having a plan for finding shelter if necessary and finding out if your insurance covers flooding.
“It’s really just a matter of safety,” he said. “You want to have that plan in place, not just having all of your supplies together.”
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