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      Experts predict above-average hurricane season for 2011

      Wednesday marked the start of hurricane season, and experts are predicting an above-average season. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is estimating there will be between 12 and 18 named storms (39 mph winds or higher) and up to six major hurricanes (111 mph winds or higher).

      This is hurricane season and a storm can come up and before you know it, it has become a hurricane, says Mari Wright with the American Red Cross Flint River Chapter.

      The Southwest Georgia Chapter of the Red Cross is no stranger to packing up emergency supply vehicles for hurricane victims in other states. They say they prepare for it year round, especially now during the beginning of hurricane season.

      One of the main things we do is go out and inspect and identify shelters in our area, make sure they have everything we need in the facility; we know how many people each shelter can hold, says Wright.

      Emergency management officials say individuals also need to start preparing.

      We ask you to put together a supply kit; put things in there that you need to keep you going for 72 hours, says Jim Vaught with Emergency Management. We want you to have things in there like non-perishables, medications, special needs for seniors or for children, cash because if we have loss of power those ATM machines are not going to work.

      Also have a plan in place in case of severe weather and if you become separated from family and friends.

      How are you going to get together with friends, relatives, loved ones? Have a rendezvous point: Some place you can go so if you get separated you can all get back together, says Vaught.

      The Red Cross in Southwest Georgia has helped hurricane victims in numerous states many times before, but what if the danger hit closer to home?

      Between this location in Albany and the one in Americus we have I believe five shelter trailers that are stocked with supplies to open a 50 person shelter, says Wright.

      It is not typical for the area to get full-force hurricanes. Southwest Georgia usually gets remnants from the hurricanes like wind and rain, but emergency officials say it TMs better to be safe than sorry.

      It doesn TMt matter if they predict one or a hundred; if you get hit, that's all it takes is the one, says Vaught.

      Vaught recommends you look over the Family Hurricane Plan Checklist on the Albany-Dougherty website, sign up for Code Red alerts for your phone and email, and purchase a NOAA weather radio.

      If you would like to make a donation to the Southwest Georgia Red Cross to help with emergency supplies and shelters this hurricane season, visit the shelters in Americus (1509 Crawford St.) or in Albany (500 Pine Ave.). You can also call them at (229) 436-4845 or (229) 924-2026. They are also looking for volunteers.