Bay Area 'most vulnerable' for hurricane damage

- It's been 11 years since Florida has seen the landfall of a hurricane, but with the start of the 2016 hurricane season on Wednesday, the city of Tampa is preparing for the worst.

A new storm surge map released by data company Corelogic shows nearly half a million homes in the Tampa Bay area are at risk of being destroyed by storm surge in the event of a major hurricane.

Tampa and St. Petersburg share the top ranking of most vulnerable cities in the United States for hurricane destruction.

Reasons behind the top ranking include the area's low-lying homes sitting just feet away from the water, rising sea levels, and a growing population size. It all adds up to a large number of people in potential impact zones.

"A Category 1 storm, at high tide, will shut down the bridges. We're looking at increased storm threat as we move up into the major categories -- 3, 4, 5. We could very well see 25 feet of water in downtown Tampa," said Brian LaMarre, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

On Wednesday, Tampa was deemed "storm-ready" by the National Weather Service, meaning the city has a 24-hour notification service with multiple ways to get and disperse weather information to residents.

"You cannot underestimate the power of a storm, and we cannot experience hurricane amnesia just because we haven't been hit in 11 years," said Mayor Bob Buckhorn at the presentation. "There will come a day when we will be hit. That is going to happen. I can promise you."

"Florida has all 67 counties recognized as storm-ready. Not many states can claim that," LaMarre added.

More than 100,000 structures in Hillsborough County are in evacuation zones. The Corelogic map shows homes in south Tampa and parts of Pinellas and Pasco Counties at high risk during a Category 1 storm.

Florida has been fortunate not to see a hurricane since Hurricane Wilma in October of 2005. City officials stressed on Wednesday that if, or when, a major hurricane hits, no one across the Bay Area should take it lightly.

"When you hear me say, 'it's time to evacuate,' I am not kidding. I wouldn't do that if I didn't think it was the appropriate decision. I would rather inconvenience you than have to come and collect you in a body bag," said Buckhorn.

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