After the thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damage from last year’s record hurricane season, emergency planners must “imagine the unimaginable” in preparing for a storms, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford warned this week.
“We have been lulled the last number of years into this notion that hurricanes are about damaging stuff but not so much about actual loss of life,” the Republican told more than 500 people attending the state’s annual Hurricane and Emergency Management Conference.
He said while the property losses from storms like Hurricane Katrina were staggering, the 1,300 people who died can’t be replaced.
“That is what this is all about,” he said. “Katrina was the wake-up call that this isn’t just something that could happen over there in New Orleans. This is something that could happen a whole lot closer to home.”
Sanford said South Carolina is due for a storm after major hits at places from Texas to North Carolina.
“The one spot that hasn’t gotten hit recently is South Carolina,” he said.
Stacy Stewart, a forecaster with the National Hurricane Center, provided a recap of last year’s record season, noting several storms developed from tropical depressions to Category 5 hurricanes in three days. That, he said, is a lesson South Carolina should not ignore.
“You can go from a tropical depression to a Category 5 within days. That can happen over the Bahamas as something approaches South Carolina,” he said.
Sanford said South Carolina must also face sea levels predicted to rise 18 inches by the end of the century. A rise would mean less of a beach buffer against storm surge.
“Even if we don’t get hit this next year with a storm or the year after that, we have profound challenges coming our way,” he said.
Last year there was a record 27 named storms, seven of 15 that were considered intense hurricanes. Yet it was a relatively mild season in South Carolina.
The busiest season on record in South Carolina was 2004, when seven storms affected the state and two hurricanes made landfall along the coast — the first time that had happened in almost a century.
Sanford said local and state officials should be the first responders to a storm, not the federal government. He said local officials and the local National Guard know areas in a way outsiders don’t. He said locals can always call for federal support.
“If you come in from Kansas and you don’t know the back way out of Socastee to Conway, you have lost some time,” he said. “It’s a question of who is in command. Is it somebody from outside the state or from somebody who is in the state?”
Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, who helped lead the recovery from Hurricane Hugo almost 17 years ago, said after Katrina last year the immediate response is like fighting a war and there should be a standing military presence to respond.
“Joe has had a lot of experience with storms. He has been there first hand. He did a fabulous job with Hugo,” Sanford said. “But I respectfully disagree.”
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