It has been almost 23 years since Hurricane Hugo ripped through the Carolinas, tossing trees, downing power lines, flooding creeks and rivers, damaging homes and businesses, and disrupting lives for weeks at a time. Twenty-seven people died in South Carolina because of the hurricane.
Friday marked the beginning of the six-month hurricane season. The official prediction is a 70 percent chance of nine to 15 major storms with six becoming hurricanes. Of the six, three may become major hurricanes with winds in excess of 110 mph.
Those in emergency preparedness, the folks whose job it is to be ready for the worst that weather can bring, are concerned that too many people have forgotten Hugos devastation. Many of the people who live in York County were not residents in 1989, or if they lived here, were too young to remember.
Hugo is among the most severe storms to have slammed South Carolina. You have to go back to 1954 and Hurricane Hazel to find a storm of similar severity.
We were not prepared for Hugo,
remembers Cotton Howell, York Countys emergency management director. Now, most people under 30 dont remember Hugo. They dont remember to be prepared.
People need to take weather watches and warnings seriously, he said. Not just hurricanes and tornadoes, but thunderstorms too.
Anne Cope of Rock Hill is one of those who does take the warnings seriously, in part because it is her job. Cope is the vice president of research for the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety. The institutes multi-peril research center in Richburg has created hurricane-strength winds as well as firestorms to study how they affect houses.
For the centers debut, it tested two houses, one built to conventional standards and a second to more stringent hurricane standards. Cope, who has degrees from Clemson and the University of Florida in engineering, knew the house built to hurricane standards would last longer.
What she was not prepared for was how quickly the high winds destroyed the conventional home.
In five seconds, it was out the door and scattered over the Chester County countryside, she said.
Copes respect for weather is not just work related, its in her DNA. She grew up in Winter Haven, Fla., in the center of the state. Winter Haven, she said, was the place that everyone was supposed to evacuate to. It was a place where people didnt have to worry about storms, she said.
That changed quickly in 2004 when, in the space of weeks, three hurricanes Charley, Francis and Jeanne ripped through central Florida. She remembers being at her parents home and poking holes in the ceiling with a broom to relieve water pressure. Her parents, Bill and Cathy Doty, lived for a year in a trailer provided by FEMA as storm damage was repaired.
Have a plan, she said. Its much easier to pull things together if you have a plan.
Hurricanes, said Cope and Howell, often have a hidden danger: tornadoes. The high winds from either often require instant reaction.
Thats what Cope was prepared to do last November when the skies darkened outside her Rock Hill home. She had emptied a stairwell closet and was ready to wait out the storm there with her children.
As deadly as that storm was, it does not compare to the devastation a storm such as Hugo can bring, Howell said.
What many people forget, he said, is their reliance on electricity. Most well pumps are powered by electricity and the number of homes today without a manual can opener is staggering, he said.
People need to have an emergency preparedness kit that will allow them to live for three or four days without electricity. In the aftermath of Hugo, power was out in some parts of York County for four weeks.
People also need different plans, covering what happens if the storm hits when they or their family are at work, at school or at home.
You cant prevent storms, but you can prevent the hardships that come with them, Howell said.
Don Worthington 803-329-4066 firstname.lastname@example.org