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Some of the damage caused by Hurricane Charley in Zolfo Springs, Fla., on Aug. 18, 2004. / File photo by Tim Dillon, USA TODAY

MIAMI - When Hurricane Arthur turned away from Florida on its way toward North Carolina last week, it was another reminder of how lucky the Sunshine State has been of late. But it was also a reminder of how quickly we have forgotten how bad things can get.

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of one of the craziest hurricane summers in U.S. history, when four storms - all Category 2 or higher - pounded the Florida peninsula.

I started out that year chasing Hurricane Charley from Key West to Port Charlotte, where it made landfall as a Category 4, killing 15 people and causing $15 billion worth of damage. I ran around Hurricane Frances, which inundated the East Coast with more than 13 inches of rain. Hurricane Jeanne destroyed my car.

Even when I tried to take a quick storm break for a friend's wedding in Pensacola, I found myself driving right into Hurricane Ivan, a behemoth that slammed into the city as a Category 3 and killed 54 people. The wedding went on as scheduled two days later, only without any air conditioning in the sweltering heat and a slight change of menu at the reception - lovely stacks of bottled water and Oreo cookies.

At the time, we felt like such disastrous summers had become the new normal in Florida. People were on guard, alert. Hurricane preparation became as routine as shopping for groceries. Bottled water? Check. Batteries? Check. Radio? Working fine.

"A lot of people got generators. You had the repairs done on your house. People were paying more attention," says Debra McCaughey, emergency management coordinator for the city of Stuart in 2004 when the city was hit by Frances and Jeanne. "When you were out and talking to them, they had a plan."

Hurricanes Dennis and Wilma hit Florida the next year, but the state has dodged every bullet in hurricane alley since. And now, nine years later, emergency managers are worried that Floridians have fallen into a collective complacency that can lead to mistakes whenever the next one hits.

There are several reasons why Floridians have adopted a more casual approach to hurricanes in recent years.

Part of it is a new wave of people moving to the state who have no experience with hurricanes or typhoons or anything of the sort. About 1 million people have moved to Florida since the last hurricane hit the state in 2005, according to the U.S. Census.

Another factor is how quickly people can forget painful events. McCaughey likens it to childbirth: "We forget how much that hurts."

"As each year passes and time goes by, it just falls back in their memories and they're forgetting and they start saying things like, 'If we get another one,''' says McCaughey, now emergency management director for Martin County, Fla. "I don't want to be the lady of doom, but it's not if we get another one, it's when we get another one."

I'm as guilty as anybody. Since moving back to the state this year, I haven't bought gasoline cans for my car. The batteries in my flashlights have probably corroded. I can't even find my hurricane machete.

But hopefully, Hurricane Arthur can be a reminder for all Floridians to get back into gear. I'll go ahead and get it started: I'm headed to Home Depot this weekend.

Gomez is a Miami-based correspondent for USA TODAY.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Voices: Floridians get complacent about hurricanes

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