Director of U.S. National Hurricane Center says preparation key to saving lives

The director of the U.S. National Hurricane Center said that this year's record hurricane season in the Atlantic showed how important it is to be prepared, even where big storms are rare. "People who had a hurricane plan did better than people who did not have a hurricane plan," Max Mayfield said in an interview at an international conference examining the planet's worst storms.

He said every individual, family, business, and community should have a plan in place before storms strike.

"The number one thing is to know your vulnerability to the storm surge, or the wave action, or the wind or the rain or the tornadoes," Mayfield said. He said the same message applies to places like the Hawaiian Islands and New England states which are less frequently hit by big storms.

Mayfield joined experts from Fiji, India, Japan, and other countries for this week's meeting in Honolulu. The officials gather once every three years to trade tips on how to forecast hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones. They also share thoughts on how to better warn people about the dangers of big storms.

Storms that spawn west of the international dateline are called typhoons while those that form on the eastern side of the dateline are called hurricanes. In the Indian Ocean, the storms are known as cyclones.

Nobutaka Mannoji, head of Japan's National Typhoon Center, said his country could learn from how New Orleans' levees broke and how some residents were unable to evacuate during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. He said Japan had started to examine its levees, some of which were built many years ago, to see if they were still able to withstand as much as they were originally designed to handle.

"Many people in Japan also live in areas below sea level so I believe there would be some damage if a Katrina-sized typhoon hit Tokyo, Osaka, or another major city," Mannoji said.

Mayfield said hurricane damage would be minimized if people built stronger structures and avoided building in areas vulnerable to flooding, storm surges, or high waves.

"It's not like I'm against coastal living. I'd live on Miami Beach if I could afford it myself. The bottom line again, you need to know what to do. You need to protect your property as best you can and then have a plan to protect your own life," said Mayfield, who heads the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.

James C. Weyman, director of the Central Pacific Hurricane Center in Honolulu, said people should have enough water and food to survive on their own for three to seven days because that's how long it might take for the government to arrive at the scene with help.

People should also have plans for what they will do with their pets and how they will take their medication while evacuating, he said. He advised residents to find out from their local civil defense offices where their neighborhood shelters are. Weyman said Hawaii fortunately doesn't get many hurricanes but it's inevitable that a major one will eventually hit the state again, reports the AP. I.L.

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