Originally created 06/04/06

Hurricanes can be costly even without direct hit



Think a Gulf or Atlantic coast hurricane won't cost you?

Think again.

Last year, hurricanes cost Augustans plenty, and many of us are still paying.

In the week after Katrina, for example, retail gasoline prices rose 46 cents to a record national average of $3.07 per gallon.

"Whenever you have a situation where oil refineries are affected, it can impact us at the pump, right here at home," said Pam Tucker, Columbia County's emergency services director.

Other less tangible changes include higher insurance rates and sudden spikes in the price of products, such as lumber or produce, affected by storms elsewhere, she said.

The local costs of hurricane preparedness are typically absorbed into local budgets, but in extreme situations such as Katrina, local funds are involved in the aid and recovery effort.

"We're an all-hazards business, so we can't say an exact figure of what hurricanes cost in Georgia," said Buzz Weiss, a spokesman for Georgia's Emergency Management Agency.

But rest assured, it's plenty.

"Our overall agency budget is $6.5 million," he said. "How much of that goes to hurricanes we can't say, but when there's a serious one, everyone here is involved."

For example, the night Katrina made landfall on the Gulf Coast, Georgia dealt with 18 tornadoes, the most ever confirmed in the state in a single day, Mr. Weiss said.

Last August and September, 125,000 to 150,000 hurricane evacuees arrived in Georgia, he said. Many remain here today, with some attending schools or receiving aid from state programs.

"We also deployed 3,000 personnel from Georgia," he said.

Local budgets likely were strained to provide the services those employees normally provided here at home in their absence.

Local hurricane relief programs don't have a specific price tag, either, Mrs. Tucker said.

"It's just part of our everyday operations," she said. "It's what we do for all disasters."

Some local costs, she added, are borne by other agencies.

"When we open a shelter all the costs - utilities, medical care, food - is usually Red Cross-funded," she said.

"It doesn't cost us a penny. They even take on liability if someone gets hurt. That's why we often encourage people to donate to the Red Cross in times of disasters."