The news channels made much of it, the politicians protected us as best they thought, our law enforcement worked a lot of overtime and seemingly every tourist "got the heck out of Dodge." I'm writing about Hurricane Florence of course, the Category 4 monster of a storm out at sea that became a CAT 3, then a CAT 2, then a CAT 1 as she made her slow but steady march toward landfall on the US east coast, then found the unfortunate souls in Wilmington, NC. By arrival time in Charleston, she'd mostly torn herself apart, starved of energy from the Atlantic and downgraded to a Tropical Storm. But, as in all these things, there are lessons to be learned or re-learned sans the pain of damage, flood, and loss for those of us seemingly spared from her wrath. But putting the obvious cliches aside, just what are those lessons?
Charleston is aware of what a hurricane is and those with the power to affect our lives will act quickly in the face of an extreme threat. Let us not let hindsight blind us with lassitude here, Hurricane Florence was, after all, a CAT 4 storm. CAT 4's remove roofs, make trailers in low lying areas into flying aircraft and trees into roadblocks. Ten foot of tidal surge could turn most of the lowcountry into the beach, and the power grid would be out for weeks. We escaped this one by only 500 miles and 2 days, in the grand scheme of life - that's not very far at all so someone heard our collective prayers. Warnings were well spoken and complacency on behalf of the authorities is not a charge fairly leveled.
Evacuation orders were effectively executed but also widely ignored. Lowcountry residents seem to be less concerned about hurricanes and more concerned about daily disruption so maybe plans to deal with issues on a more local level would be heard more widely moving forward. For those that ignored the orders, at least those we mixed with downtown, it was less about the potential risks and more about accepting personal responsibility to deal with disaster when it happens.
Whether it be fact or simply local lore - Charleston loves a party. Downtown was empty save for the locals and few "from off" who decided to stay. Everyone was out to enjoy themselves, the establishments that remained open were well frequented, the beer flowed and the music played into the night - well, into three nights to be honest. Broad Street, the hub of Charleston's South of Broad neighborhood, was populated with golf carts and revelers with windswept hair - I quite might miss it all now that it is over.
We learned to walk again. When our four-wheeled transports are stored on high ground the only way around is by foot or pedal power (or golf cart!). A promenade down the Battery was wonderful, everyone said "hello" and "stay safe and keep dry." I have a theory that the bigger the threat the bigger is the tribe. The tribe in Charleston was citywide and all those neighborhood squabbles forgotten - or at least tabled for now. I, for one, hope they stay that way.
Residents, both downtown and in Charleston's many waterfront neighborhoods, are tired of flooding and painfully versed in its effects. Long-term preparations for disaster were obvious everywhere. The lessons of the last few years had been learned by more than a few. Window boards were pre-cut, doorways and entrances blocked with floodgates and sandbags, salvage pumps strategically placed. All this is great but in future, we will need more of the engineering-based solutions to widespread flooding in our beloved city.
For our own preparations, our main property sits on the peninsula out of FEMA flood zones, we have hurricane supplies and ground floor shutters are functional. Our generator is fueled, away from flood and also well-ventilated. Other properties and build sites we operate downtown and at Folly Beach are ALL being elevated out of FEMA Flood zones where at all possible. We cannot plan our future based on living in hope. It's a big job, but also only needs to be done once and has additional advantages for the homeowner facing the challenges of living downtown. For anyone wanting to understand how this process works, we'd be happy to show you real examples and discuss our own experiences.
Stay safe and stay dry out there.
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