Blue tarp remains a makeshift roof for tens of thousands of homes across the Gulf Coast region, the Army Corps of Engineers is still plugging holes in New Orleans' levees, and the oil and gas industries are still cleaning up from last year's hurricane devastation.

With half of New Orleans residents still scattered around the nation, forecasters are predicting a 2006 hurricane season that could spawn dozens of deadly storms at a more than average rate.

As Hurricane Katrina proved last year, it only takes one storm no bigger than a Category 3 or 4 to make landfall just adjacent to a major populated area in order to generate record levels of death and destruction. A direct hit will be far, far worse.

Yet with montages of hurricane destruction readily available throughout the Gulf Coast, most residents in the nation's most hurricane prone regions remain unprepared for the worst.

The 2006 hurricane season, June 1 to November 30, will generate 17 named storms, nine hurricanes and five intense hurricanes. The probability for at least one major Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane to reach landfall anywhere along the East Coast is 64 percent, 33 points above the average for the last century. A Gulf Coast landfall, from the Florida Panhandle to Brownsville, Texas, is 47 percent; 14 points over the average during the last century, according to the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.

That's somewhat off the 2005 season which spawned a record 26 named storms and a record 7 major or intense storms as well as 14 hurricanes. The 2005 season was also the first time there were four Category 5 hurricanes in one season, and it accounted for the most deaths in a single hurricane season, according to Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center in Florida.

Also, Hurricane Katrina's estimated $35 billion in damage was the nation's greatest natural disaster ever.

"We could say, the 2006 hurricane season can't be worse than last year, but I'm here to convince you it can," said Mayfield at the national hurricane conference in Orlando, FL earlier this month.

"All it takes is for one major storm to hit one community."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center won't officially release its hurricane forecast until the onset of the hurricane season on June 1.

Despite the forecasts, it appears many area residents have thrown up their hands about preparing for devastation.

  • A poll of 1,277 residents in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia recently conducted by Elon, NC-based Institute for Politics and Public Affairs at Elon University found that 57 percent have done nothing to prepare for the hurricane season.

    Elon also found only 18 percent had taken basic hurricane preparedness steps including purchasing bottled water, canned food, batteries or preparing a hurricane survival kit. Only 7 percent had prepared their home for a hurricane by making upgrades or installing safety shutters or doors.

    Fifty-seven percent of those living in coastal areas say they have done something to prepare for the upcoming hurricane season, compared with 27 percent in non-coastal areas. Also 77 percent of those living near the coast said the were somewhat prepared or very prepared for the hurricane season, compared with 51 percent in non-coastal areas.

  • Earlier this year, the American Red Cross' "Coastal County Poll" to understand hurricane preparedness among the 48 million people living along the U.S. coastline from Maine to Texas, found likewise, 59 percent of coastal residents do not have an evacuation plan, similar to its findings in 2001.

    The Red Cross also found that only 47 percent of respondents have assembled a disaster supplies kit that contains items family members would need if they were forced from their home, an "insignificant" change from findings in 2001.

    Among those who have someone in the household with a disability or health problem, 71 percent have a plan to ensure the special needs of that family member would be met in an evacuation, a sharp increase from 50 percent in May 2001.

  • In addition to the lack of preparation by residents of hurricane prone regions the First Response Coalition reported eight hurricane prone states may not be able to communicate during a hurricane disaster this year.

    "Insufficient funding and a lack of coordination at all levels of government plague efforts to establish meaningful communications interoperability," among the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas, the report said.

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