Fla. mulls empty homes as storm shelters

June 4, 2009 at 4:15 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., June 4 (UPI) -- Homes that are vacant due to foreclosures are being considered for temporary hurricane housing, Florida's top disaster-management official said.

"We can't not look at something staring us directly in the face. It's a solution to a potential problem," said Ruben Almaguer, interim director of the state's emergency management division.

But foreclosure attorney Scott Stamatakis of Tampa, Fla., said such a plan was "much easier said than done."

He said it might be hard to find out who owns foreclosed properties, and some are controlled by investors who limit their use, The Miami Herald reported.

Florida has about 250,000 homes being foreclosed and 300,000 unsold homes on the market, the newspaper said.

But Almaguer said it was clear to state, federal and local officials that neither Florida nor the Federal Emergency Management Agency had enough shelter space to house newly homeless people in the event of a powerful Category 4 storm.

Such a storm, discussed as a scenario during a weeklong disaster exercise, could nearly bankrupt the state, displace 1 million residents, destroy homes and schools and even free zoo monkeys that could terrorize Floridians.

Six years ago, the idea of using cruise ships as shelter space seemed out of the question, but now it's a recognized option, Almaguer said.

Jeff Bryant, FEMA's federal coordinating official in Florida, said using foreclosed homes as hurricane shelters was just one of many ideas to come from the hurricane exercise at the Tallahassee, Fla., Emergency Operations Center.

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