In Charleston, we dodged a bullet given the relatively minor damage we received last week from Hurricane Joaquin, which helped funnel a ceaseless stream of precipitation across South Carolina. Relatively speaking, we were blessed. Despite receiving the equivalent of four months of rainfall in just a few days, the Charleston area was largely spared from the worst after-effects of Hurricane Joaquin’s wake.
Other than some street closures and some flooding in low-lying areas, we emerged from the weekend deluge relatively unscathed while some of our fellow South Carolinians continue to deal with water shortages, road washouts, dam breeches, and swollen rivers. Our relative good fortune should be enough for us to give thanks early and often. More importantly, it should remind us once again to recognize the devastating power of Mother Nature — particularly when it involves something as powerful as a hurricane.
Since Hurricane Hugo nearly 30 years ago, many of us have lost the healthy fear that the people of the Lowcountry acquired in the immediate aftermath of that devastating storm. When Hugo slammed into the Charleston coastline, our area experienced what it truly means to be ground zero when a Category 4 hurricane strikes — bringing with it widespread destruction rivaling that of a war zone. After the immediate devastation of Hugo, Charleston was understandably shell-shocked, and it stayed that way for years. In fact, the area went into evacuation mode whenever another hurricane even looked as if it was headed our way.
Like me, I’m sure that many of you vividly recall the evacuations ordered by former South Carolina governors Jim Hodges and David Beasley and the jam-packed highways where thousands of cars would crawl at a snail’s pace to escape the coming threat, only to see limited rainfall and mild winds occur post-evacuation. Since Hugo — and even more devastating calamities in Florida, New Orleans, and New Jersey — our region has largely been spared the devastating impact of a direct tropical storm strike, much less a hurricane, and so that fear has largely slipped away, even among the members of our Congressional delegation.
Today, the federal government is stepping in to assist our region in the form of FEMA relief for those without flood insurance, something many of our legislators in Congress opposed when Hurricane Sandy struck the Northeast but which they now ask for in their own state. But as resistant as South Carolina and its representatives in Washington have been to receiving federal funds of any type, this is a situation where the assistance is sorely needed, regardless of whether we should take them to task for their hypocrisy.
Every natural disaster is a test of our area’s preparedness and our underlying infrastructure. In this instance, the Charleston area passed the test with flying colors. And other than the extended school and road closures everything was nearly business as usual for most Charlestonians days after the heavy rains subsided, unlike our neighbors in the Midlands who are, as of this writing, still without clean water. But this should not lull us into a false sense of complacency.
It is still hurricane season, and there is the potential that more could be coming our way. The misery visited on our fellow South Carolinians could very well be ours the next time. For that reason, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.
Dwayne Green is a licensed attorney practicing in Charleston. He is a former assistant attorney for the City of Charleston, and graduated from Princeton University with a degree in politics and the University of Iowa College of Law.