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Hurricane Havoc

Storms affected Florida's environment, industry, and some science facilities

by William G. Schulz
September 13, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 37

As Hurricane Ivan--the third hurricane in about as many weeks--appeared to be heading toward Florida last week, rescue and cleanup crews already had their hands full dealing with the aftermath of Hurricanes Charley and Frances. At least three lives have been lost.

Frances alone is expected to result in an estimated $2 billion to $20 billion worth of insurance claims in Florida. Other damage included a huge acidic wastewater spill from a phosphate fertilizer plant near Tampa and serious damage to buildings at NASA's Kennedy Space Center.

President George W. Bush has formally asked Congress to pass emergency supplemental funding of $2 billion to be used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for emergency cleanup, emergency protective measures, and assistance to individuals and to support disaster response efforts of the Small Business Administration.

To ease cleanup and recovery efforts, the Environmental Protection Agency for a period waived some Clean Air Act requirements on gasoline in order to quickly get supplies into affected areas. The agency allowed sale of high-sulfur diesel fuel--normally used for off-road vehicles--for use in all vehicles, for example.

Property loss included some science facilities. An estimated $700,000 worth of damage was wreaked by Hurricane Charley at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. With Frances, NASA reported more storm damage, including "severe" damage to its huge 40-story Vehicle Assembly Building and the building where space shuttle thermal protection system tiles are manufactured.

Florida is home to many research institutions and quite a few universities. An informal poll by C&EN yielded one report of minor damage to the University of Florida, Gainesville. Damage that may have occurred at other research institutions could not be ascertained as of C&EN press time.

Business was spared Frances' wrath in some places but not others. Many of Florida's organic chemistry-based companies, for example, are at the western end of the state's panhandle, an area not significantly affected by the storm.

However, several of Florida's phosphate fertilizer producers, scattered about the state's midriff, were in the path of Frances. On Sunday, Sept. 5, a dike broke at Cargill Crop Nutrition's Riverview complex near Tampa, dumping more than 40 million gal of acidic wastewater into a creek that feeds Hillsborough Bay.

State officials had warned Cargill in August that a stretch of the dike was not as thick as it should be. At a Sept. 6 press conference, Cargill Vice President Gray Gordon apologized for the incident. "We're very upset about this, very concerned," he said.

According to the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, the outlook for the 2004 hurricane season calls for 12 to 15 tropical storms to be generated; six to eight will become hurricanes, and two to four will become major hurricanes. The increased hurricane activity has been linked to warmer than normal sea-surface temperatures in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.



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