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National forecasters say more hurricanes than normal are expected to whip across the Gulf and Atlantic coasts this season.

At a news conference last month, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said the seasonal outlook is for 12 to 15 tropical storms, with six to eight systems becoming hurricanes, and two to four of those major hurricanes.

Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency officials joined NOAA in urging residents in Gulf and Atlantic Coast states to be prepared for an active season, which runs from June 1 through Nov. 30.

"NOAA's 2004 Atlantic hurricane season outlook indicates a 50 percent probability of an above-normal season, a 40 percent probability of a near-normal season and only a 10 percent chance of a below-normal season," said retired Air Force Brig. Gen. David L. Johnson, director of the NOAA National Weather Service.

Forecasters are particularly concerned about the Atlantic coast, expected to have another year of above-normal activity, which began in 1995. Since then all but two Atlantic hurricane seasons (the El Niño years of 1997 and 2002) have been above normal.

"Last year three tropical storms and three hurricanes affected the United States. Hurricane Isabel caused 17 deaths and more than $3 billion in damages. We cannot stop these storms, but we can take steps to limit our vulnerability. Awareness and preparedness for hurricanes, and even tropical storms, and knowing what to do to mitigate their devastating effects, are our best defense," said undersecretary for Homeland Security Michael Brown.

The National Hurricane Center recommends you begin by putting together a family disaster plan, which entails:

  • Determining your home's vulnerability to storm surge, flooding, and wind.
  • Locating the safest room possible, whether it's in your home or within your community.
  • Scouting out the best escape routes and select a meeting place for your family members.
  • Selecting an out-of-state friend as a family contact.
  • Making a plan for your pets.
  • Posting emergency numbers by the phone. Make sure your kids know how and when to call 911.
  • Checking your insurance coverage. Homeowners insurance usually doesn't cover flood damage.
  • Stocking emergency supplies and a supply kit.
  • Using a NOAA weather radio. Remember to replace the battery every six months.

As part of your plan, you'll need to find a safe place for your family. Some of the things to keep in mind include:

  • Don't delay if you're ordered to evacuate. If possible, leave before evacuation is ordered so you can reduce your travel time. Traffic will worsen the longer you wait.
  • Select an evacuation destination close to your home, keeping in mind that inland metro areas will fill up quickly. Also, keep in mind that choosing a destination in another county or area will likely mean a long wait in traffic.
  • If you're going to a hotel, make reservations before you leave.
  • Go to a shelter as a last resort.
  • Fill your car with gas before you leave.

Meanwhile, more than 68 million people live in hurricane-prone areas, potentially causing billions of dollars in damage. The Insurance Information Institute (III) says many homeowners in these areas don't have enough insurance coverage.

Hurricanes and other tropical storms usually cause widespread flooding, yet only about 25 percent of homes in flood plains purchase flood insurance, which is not covered under standard homeowners policies, the III says.

And some homeowners haven't adjusted their policies to take into account the rising construction costs. Others, who recently increased the value of their homes through renovations and additions, have not increased their policy limits to more accurately reflect the cost of rebuilding their home today.

A recent Harris Poll found some 80 percent of homeowners nationwide say their homes have increased in value, yet only 63 percent report increasing their homeowners insurance coverage.

"Protecting your home with the proper insurance is part of responsible home ownership," says Loretta Worters, vice president of the III. "That means reading and understanding your policy, and getting additional coverage if you've made changes or additions to your home."

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