ATLANTA – Thirty years ago, people from the Gulf Coast to Canada were cleaning up from a
monstrous storm named Hurricane Frederic.
Frederic struck the Gulf Coast near the Alabama-Mississippi border on September 13, driving storm surges of 12 feet and producing more dollar damage than any previous Gulf Coast hurricane. However, the death toll was small for such a large and intense storm, which President Jimmy Carter credited to accurate, timely warnings and an orderly and extensive evacuation.
That was an example of the value of preparedness,‖ said Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region IV Administrator Phil May. ―FEMA was in its infancy at the time, and today we still know the best way to respond to an event like this is to be ready before it happens.
Alabamians long experienced with hurricanes described the devastation of their coast as ―near- total from Fort Morgan to Gulf Shores, which reported 80 percent of its buildings destroyed. Before hitting the mainland, Frederic struck Dauphin Island – knocking out the causeway that joined the island to the mainland. Although Alabama suffered the most damage, Frederic’s eye spent more time over Mississippi than any other state in remaining a hurricane to Meridian – nearly 200 miles inland. Florida suffered the only coast-state fatality when a boater was washed overboard near Pensacola.
Amid the largest evacuation in Gulf Coast history to that time, some 500,000 people, all three states received disaster declarations and FEMA spent over $225 million helping them recover. Some $118 million of that was in Alabama, $34 million in Mississippi and $4 million in Florida. FEMA followed those dollars with more federal funds aimed at reducing the impact of future disasters – $42 million to Alabama, nearly $750,000 to Mississippi and $1.5 million to Florida.
Frederic was indeed the first mainland hurricane in the history of FEMA, which the president had activated that July. Although the first hurricane disaster declaration of the FEMA era was for Hurricane David, it was for Puerto Rico. After what have been called the ―twin hurricanes‖ separated, Frederic targeted the mainland as no storm ever before in terms of dollar damage and time over land. After holding hurricane strength almost halfway to Tennessee, it retained tropical characteristics all the way to Pennsylvania and dumped more than half a foot of rain
into New England and even Canada.
―Citizens can best be safe by having a disaster plan and an emergency kit, learning a life- saving skill and checking on one neighbor after they make sure their own family is safe, May said.
Over the years, September has brought many major disasters and is now observed as National Preparedness Month. For more information on that observance or getting prepared, call 800- BE-READY or visit www.ready.gov, its Spanish-language version www.listo.gov or www.citizencorps.gov for free preparedness resources, such as family emergency plan templates, emergency supply kit checklists, and much more.
The Ready Web site also has a special sections for children, ages 8-12, (Ready Kids) and small- to medium-sized businesses (Ready Business).
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.