Joe Henderson Columns
Henderson: Debby delivers wake-up for Tampa Bay area
Bayshore Boulevard turned into a lake. Trees came crashing. You needed a canoe to travel some streets. Power and phones were knocked out. Tornadoes touched the ground. Now, consider this. "This was not a direct hit to us. Basically, this was a miss." That was Preston Cook speaking. He is the head of Hillsborough County's Office of Emergency Management. He, of course, was talking about Tropical Storm Debby.This was a blob of clouds and rain that initially didn't seem like something we should be too concerned about. It wasn't a storm that would have sent people stampeding to the stores to buy batteries, flashlights and candles. What a mess, though. "People need to wake up," Cook said. "They need to take hurricane preparation seriously. If they don't view this as a wakeup call, then shame on them. Shame on them." Admit it – your eyes are crossing right now. You're thinking you have heard it all before and if a hurricane really targets us you'll ride it out with a generator, wet-dry vacuum and a couple of quarts of tequila. We do tend to get complacent, especially when weather people hyperventilate over a cloudy day off the coast of Africa. Ponder this though, blasé citizens: Debby is a tropical toddler and it still caused all this havoc. What happens if big brother in the guise of a Category 3 hurricane churns up the mouth of Tampa Bay? "This is definitely a warning," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "I've got four to six inches of standing water in my backyard now. "If this was a Category 3 with a direct hit, depending on the tides you'd see South Tampa swamped. Downtown would be underwater by 15 feet. Davis Islands would be devastated. People need to understand that there's a big difference in the flooding we get from a summer storm and the damage from a major hurricane." Officials have tried forever to address flooding in South Tampa, but the streets still go under water if someone basically leaves sprinklers on too long. So if you accept the fact a hurricane coming inland along Bayshore will drown the area, what can people do? Run away, run away! Even though a lot of people, especially those who live inland, tend to laugh off anything Category 2 or below, the events of this weekend ought to fix that. Bad as this is, it could have been worse. Given the latest forecast, it still might be. Everyone needs a plan that starts with leaving your stubborn streak at the door. "When they hear me say to evacuate, I'm not kidding," Buckhorn said. "I would be trying to save their life. When I say it's time to go, it's time to go. Think about Debby. On Friday, we assumed it was heading west and was no real threat to us, and you saw what happened. People need to pay attention. "When I tell people that I have information that you'd be far better off somewhere else rather than where you are, you've got to go. I know it's an inconvenience, but I'd rather have you inconvenienced than dead."