updated 12/1/2004 5:01:26 PM ET 2004-12-01T22:01:26

One of the most traumatic hurricane seasons in Florida history has finally officially ended.

Gov. Jeb Bush called the end of the season Tuesday a time for “reflection and celebration.” His state was hit by four hurricanes in a single season, a two-month barrage of storms that triggered the nation’s biggest natural-disaster response.

The hurricanes killed 117 people in Florida, destroyed more than 25,000 homes and heavily damaged 4,600 more. Damage was estimated at $42 billion, surpassing the $34.9 billion caused in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew, the nation’s most costly storm.

Tuesday, Bush toured some of the most severely affected areas, beginning at Escambia County’s new emergency operations center.

“This was a historic time,” Bush said. “As a state, we learned a lot about ourselves and it’s important to reflect on that. I think Florida is a better place and a stronger place because of this.”

Rare four-storm season
The Atlantic hurricane season runs from June 1 through Nov. 30. Hurricane Charley plowed into southwestern Florida in mid-August, and Frances, Ivan and Jeanne slammed the state in September. The only other time on record when four hurricanes hit one state in a year was Texas in 1886.

Escambia County Public Safety Director Janice Kilgore’s announcement that the hurricane season was officially over drew a cheer as she introduced the governor, but nature does not always adhere to that schedule: Capping off the freakish year, Tropical Storm Otto formed on the last day of the season far in the central Atlantic, about 800 miles east of Bermuda. It posed no threat to land.

National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield urged people to begin planning now for the next hurricane season. “People that had a hurricane plan did better than those that did not,” he said in Miami.

The center will release its prediction for the 2005 season May 16, but Mayfield said it was likely that a trend of increasing activity would continue.

“We have had more tropical storms and more hurricanes since 1995 than any consecutive 10-year period on the record,” Mayfield said.

In 2004, counting Otto, there were 15 named storms in the Atlantic region, including nine hurricanes, six of them major.

Lessons to be learned
Photographs of buildings with walls and roofs missing and storm-driven white sand covering roads, yards, homes and vehicles like huge snowdrifts flashed on a large screen behind Bush as he spoke. He praised emergency workers, neighbors who helped neighbors and about 140,000 volunteers from around the world.

“It’s important to take that creative compassion that I saw during the storms as people responded to that and use it in everyday life to improve people’s lives,” Bush said.

While the hurricane season may be over, the misery is not. In the Panhandle alone, about 1,000 residents are waiting for mobile homes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The statewide total of people living in government trailers is expected to reach 15,000, Bush said.

Bush said he would push during a special legislative session for passage of tax relief for people who lost their homes and the elimination of multiple deductibles on insurance policies for those who had damage from more than one hurricane.

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