Lessons Learned After Hurricane Charley

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It was 12 years ago Wednesday that Florida residents were just starting to try to reconstruct their lives after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. State officials say they learned a lot from Andrew, and those lessons left Florida in much better shape to meet the challenges of Hurricane Charley.

Hurricane Andrew caught Florida's insurance industry totally off guard, but spokesman Sam Miller of the Florida Insurance Council says the brutal wakeup call forced changes that made insurers much better prepared this time around.

“We're not expecting rate increases, significant rate increases because of Hurricane Charley, you won't have hundreds of thousands of people losing their insurance, you won't have insurance companies pulling out of Florida."

Florida created its hurricane catastrophe, or "CAT" fund, after Andrew to make sure losses would be covered. The state also created the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation for coastal properties.

The end result State Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher says is you won't' see a flood of insurance company bankruptcies.

“I think there's the potential where we had 22 before, to maybe have one this time, so all things considered, I think we're in a lot better shape than we were after Hurricane Andrew.

Florida's price-gouging law also came out of Hurricane Andrew, giving the state attorney general more tools to prosecute rip-off artists. The phones have been ringing off the hook at a special hotline set up to take complaints.

Attorney General Charlie Crist says it’s working.

“The fact that we had the price-gouging hotline up and running before the storm hit, for those people who had to buy products in anticipation of the storm, like plywood and stuff like that, it really helped us a lot.”

Utility companies put their experience to work too. Andrew left some Floridians in the dark for nine months, but just two weeks after Charley, the lights are back on for 98 percent of his victims.

Meanwhile, a special fund set up to help victims of Hurricane Charley continues to grow, but its organizers say the needs are growing too. More than $3 million have come into the Hurricane Charley Relief Fund which is overseen by the Volunteer Florida Foundation.

Organizers like Steve Uhlfelder say the needs will be around for a long time, and they're hoping people will continue to give generously.

“We've reached out to the business communities. We've reached out to universities and we are trying to do a broad-based internet collection. We are trying to get it on people's websites. We are trying to let people know that just because the Hurricane passed, the disaster is still there in many parts of the state, particularly in Southwest Florida where people are homeless, people are without jobs. Some areas will not be restored for a long time and we really are pleading with Floridians to come through and help us with this disaster fund so that we can help the people and their long-term needs."

Organizers say the fund will help people with housing and economic development in devastated communities. You can donate by logging onto the website: www.hurricanecharleyfund.com or call 1-800-FL-HELP-1.