Almost two years after Hurricane Charley's visit, plenty of blue tarps still cover the roofs of houses in the flight path of planes landing at Orlando International Airport.

There are a variety of reasons for that, according to Edie Ousley, public affairs director for the Florida Home Builders Association -- among them the continuing shortage of labor and unpaid insurance claims or no homeowners' insurance at all.

DisneyWorld, not Central Florida, is the Magic Kingdom. Residents of metropolitan Orlando have to put up with the same day-to-day frustrations as the rest of us, except that they are visited more frequently these days by hurricanes than Des Moines or Denver.

I was in Orlando for the Southeast Builders Conference, held in early August, I suppose, because most builders in this region don't want to spend much time out of doors when you can cut the air with a knife most days.

A few hundred miles off the coast, tropical storm Chris was spinning aimlessly. But after the last two hurricane seasons, people along the southeast and Gulf coasts take these things seriously.

Chris never amounted to much, nor did it touch land. Coincidentally, long-range weather forecasters were starting to think that maybe the effects of El Nino would cool the waters of the storm-spawning South Atlantic enough this year to reduce the chances of major hurricanes.

Yet, the last few conferences have featured an ever-growing number of exhibits on the convention floor, called "Hurricane Alley."

Hurricane Alley, sponsored by the Florida Department of Community Affairs, showcased disaster resistant new home construction products and services that comply and exceed Florida's building code, Ousley said.

There was a "meet the experts" session for builders that featured construction experts addressing specifics on building to the code, which was adopted after Hurricane Andrew flattened the southern part of the state in 1992.

Dade County, where Hurricane Andrew hit hardest, has a code even more stringent than the statewide code.

"There are a lot of products that claim to reduce hurricane damage, but the ones featured here have been certified by the state as meeting the building code," Ousley said.

"In the last few years, we've learned that the way to get the message across to builders is through this kind of education process," she said. "From there, the builders can take what they've learned to consumers.

After the hurricane season of 2004 that saw four direct hits on the state, a survey of damage showed that houses built after the new code sustained minimal or no damage.

It appears that consumers are the ones that don't take the hurricane threat seriously. Too many of them think that when the storm passes, all they have to do is put a claim in on the insurance and rebuild.

The number of blue tarps visible from a landing plane show how wrong-headed that thinking is.

Some of these homeowners policies have high deductibles -- often 2 percent to 5 percent, and 10 percent for mobile homes. After four hurricanes, you add the deductibles and you can't afford to rebuild.

At the SEBC, the Florida Department of Financial Services debuted the "My Safe Florida Home" program to help qualified owners of existing houses pay for hurricane-resistance improvements that are recommended through a free home inspection.

This is a matching grant of $5,000, and includes seven categories of possible improvements, including stronger roof decking, creating a secondary water barrier to prevent water intrusion, reinforcing roof-to-wall connections and exterior-door upgrades.

The state assumes that insurance companies will offer discounts on premiums to homeowners who make these improvements.

Local governments and some not-for-profit agencies are offering grants to low-income homeowners in areas of the state.

Since the program was announced July 1, 12,000 Floridians have contacted the state through the website, and the agency hopes to beat the 60-day deadline for getting things up and running by scheduling the first home inspections this month.

I won't be back to Florida until the National Association of Homebuilders show in early February. I'm hoping that when I look out the window as the plane lands in Orlando, the only blue will be in the sky.

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