By Barney Blakeney
Unlike many in the direct path of Hurricane Florence, the metropolitan Charleston community dodged the storm’s most damaging effects. And although dire warnings preluding the storm’s eventual landfall near Wilmington, N.C. predicted a more severe impact, media hype that prompted heightened commercial activity as it purported threats and piqued fears actually are diminished by the reality of the storm’s devastating effect to other areas.
As Florence took shape in the Atlantic Ocean, media predictions created so many variables many in the local community were left bewildered by forecasts laced with dire consequences in the event of a landfall near Charleston. By Monday even residents seasoned by years of experience living in the path of hurricanes were unsure how to respond to the impending threat. Perhaps more predictable was that many would succumb to fear heightened by ambiguous forecasts prompting them to prepare for Armageddon. I asked several residents their thoughts on Hurricane Florence’s impact locally.
The commercial frenzy that began with lines at gas stations and retail stores culminated with business closures that left more local residents inconvenienced than threatened. At the height of the storm’s predicted landfall, many local residents sat outside enjoying slightly higher breezes and cooler temperatures.
Charleston state Rep. Wendell Gilliard said his immediate concerns were for the homeless population. As the media perpetuated fears of an impending storm that never reached Charleston, there were inadequate plans to protect that population, Gilliard said. Emphasizing the November general election, Gilliard said government officials covered their political backs and went into emergency overkill that significantly benefitted commerce. Most hourly wage employees in the area’s retail, hospitality, food and beverage industries – another vulnerable population – became losers, he said. “They told people the sky was falling when it wasn’t,” he said.
Gullah Geechee Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and CEO Marilyn Hemmingway said like some others she endured the predicted landfall of the storm from her porch in Georgetown. But while the Lowcountry dodged the devastation of a direct hit, the aftermath of the storm likely will have a more profound impact in local communities.
It could take several more days before the flood waters created by Florence reaches the Lowcountry, she said. For areas prone to flooding, the impact might be devastating.
“It’s not what we saw, but what may be coming,” she said. “The questions we should be asking is are we prepared, do we have insurance and how can we prepare for these events in the future?” She suggested small businesses already impacted or those which may be impacted get information about available resources that can assist them.
Charleston Sen. Marlon Kimpson said our region indeed dodged the bullet, but he thinks the precautions taken were merited. It’s always better to err on the side of caution, he said. The takeaway from Hurricane Florence should be the need to prepare for such emergencies before they occur.
“This happens every year,” Kimpson said. “We know some people will leave and others can’t or won’t, no matter what. For those who leave we need better evacuation plans. For those who can’t or won’t leave we need better plans for transportation and shelter. But for a slight turn, we could have been in the direct path of the storm. Some areas of South Carolina sustained significant damage.
“And we recognize that when people live check to check before an event such as this, this causes them more problems. Of course some of this was political, but I think our government officials made the best call given the information they had available. They didn’t cover all bases, for example what to do with incarcerated people at the county detention center. Obviously we have a lot of work to do,” he said.