Hurricane season ends today

San Jose Mercury News

Wednesday 30 November 2005, 8:57 am

By John Pain, Associated Press

MIAMI - The victims of the busiest and costliest Atlantic hurricane season on record may be comforted now that it's finally ending Wednesday: No hurricane has been known to hit the United States between December and May.

But despite the end of the June 1-to-Nov. 30 season, tens of thousands of Americans are still dealing with the devastation from Hurricanes Wilma, Rita and Katrina, the nation's worst natural disaster in modern times.

Thousands remain homeless along the Gulf Coast, where Katrina hit three months ago. The storm plunged New Orleans into the kind of chaos usually seen in developing countries, exposing the gap between rich and poor, and raising serious doubts about the country's readiness for another catastrophe, caused by man or nature.

Forecasters say 2006 could be another brutal year because the Atlantic is in a period of frenzied hurricane activity that began in 1995 and could last at least another decade.

Government hurricane experts say the increase is due to a natural cycle of higher sea temperatures, lower wind shear and other factors, though some scientists blame global warming.

In 154 years of record-keeping, this year had the most named storms (26, including Tropical Storm Epsilon, which formed Tuesday), the most hurricanes (13), the highest number of major hurricanes hitting the U.S. (4), and the most top-scale Category 5 hurricanes (3).

Katrina was the deadliest U.S. hurricane since 1928 (more than 1,300 dead) and replaced 1992's Andrew as the most expensive one on record ($34.4 billion in insured losses).

The worst damage, of course, was inflicted by Katrina. Miles of coastal Mississippi towns such as Waveland and Gulfport were smashed. Eighty percent of New Orleans was under water after its levees broke. The world saw families stranded on roofs, and hungry and thirsty refugees stuck in the Superdome and Convention Center. Bodies lay on streets for days or floated in the fetid floodwaters. Hundreds of thousands of people have yet to return to their homes - or have no homes to return to.