S.C. Statehouse Report
Sunday, March 19, 2006
VIEW: http://www.statehousereport.com/columns/06.0319.storm.htm

Getting ready for the big one
By Andy Brack
SC Statehouse Report

NEW ORLEANS, March 19, 2006 - -In this city dubbed "The Big Easy," life still isn't easy for a lot of folks.

Six months after Hurricane Katrina and the waters that flooded first floors after levees broke across the city, the scene remains grim.

Hundreds of houses sit empty, still filled with the grime of the storm. Piles of debris line street after street. Microscopic particles of dust and who-knows-what cause your nose and eyes to burn. "For sale" signs dot the front yards of houses you wonder whether anyone would ever buy.

Neither newspaper photographs nor pictures from television can prepare you for the block after block, mile after mile of destruction. In 1989 when Hurricane Hugo hit South Carolina, the village of McClellanville had homes knocked off foundations and flooded with water from a storm surge. To get an idea of how the storm slammed into New Orleans and the Mississippi coast, you'd have to multiply what happened in McClellanville by 10,000, or maybe 50,000.

Simply put, the magnitude of what happened along the Gulf Coast is too big to comprehend.

PHOTO ESSAY. If you'd like to see a photo essay of the devastation in New Orleans and Mississippi, click here.

In parts of the city not savaged by flood waters, it's not uncommon to see blue tarps covering roofs or FEMA trailers in front yards as people try to put their lives back together. But next door to one pitiful scene may be another house where all looks fine and people seem to be living normal lives again.

In fact despite the destruction that litters segments of the city, New Orleans seems to be percolating. Even though some traffic signals still don't work, there's morning commuter congestion. Stores and national chains along Veterans Highway are packed. Students run around playing outside a school at the end of the day. Partying is back to normal in the French Quarter, which missed flooding.

After wandering around for a couple of days looking at what's happened and happening here, you wonder, "Is South Carolina ready for a catastrophe of this magnitude?"

The answer, it seems, is we're as ready as we can be, according to state and local officials.

"No state can truly be ready for a disaster of the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina," said Ron Osborne, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who directs the state's Emergency Management Division.

Since Hugo's scar from the Lowcountry across the state toward Charlotte, emergency management officials have been preparing for the big one. They say they believe their plans for evacuation and recovery are about as good as possible for the infrastructure that exists.

"I believe that South Carolina is ahead of the curve in emergency planning, and that we are as prepared as our current level of funding allows," Osborne said.

The state's portion of the department's emergency management budget is $922,999 in the current fiscal year. Four years ago, it was $1.3 million. In Charleston County, the story is similar. The current budget is $240,415 to pay for operations and three employees. Four years ago, it was $251,320, which paid for operations and four employees.

Cathy Haynes, director of the Charleston County Emergency Preparedness Division, said, "I don't think anybody could be ready totally 100 percent for a catastrophe event like Katrina, but we are working toward improving our readiness."

She said the county and state learned a lot of lessons from Hugo and the storms since. Evacuation plans are ready and fine-tuned. They're working on more plans to move people without transportation further inland if ever necessary.


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Steve Fields, deputy director of the Beaufort County Emergency Management Division, says the county is as ready as it can be for any recovery efforts following a big storm.

"But it is still unknown," he added, "because in modern times, we haven't taken a devastating hit such as Katrina."

Fields and Haynes agreed in separate interviews that while government can get ready for evacuation and leading recovery efforts, citizens can make sure they're prepared for the big one too.

"The biggest thing that will help with evacuation and recovery is people being self-reliant - - not depending on the government doing everything for them," Fields said.

The hurricane season opens June 1. Forecasters say the coming season may be tougher than the past two.

lighter side

3/19: Taxing times

Another great cartoon from Bill McLemore:

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Here's a "thumbs up" and "thumbs down" related to various political news items from the past week:

Thumbs up

Round ball: Three-pointers, or treys, are awarded to the Winthrop University Eagles for being the only college in the state to get into the NCAA major college basketball tournament. They lost by only two points to a more highly ranked team, Tennessee. Slam dunks go to the University of South Carolina and Clemson University for being invited to the National Invitation Tournament and winning their opening games in good fashion.

Environment: Tip of the St. Patrick's Day green hat to two legislators, Rep. Billy Witherspoon, R-Conway, and Sen. Phil Leventis, D-Sumter, for their interests in cleaning up the environment. Witherspoon has led the charge to assuring mercury switches, such as in car trunks for lighting, are not left to pollute the ground, and Leventis wants to impose $6 to $10 fees on computers and television sets to fund an Electronic Waste Recovery and Recycling Fund to recycle pollutants from the electronics.

In the middle

School starts: Sen. Leventis won't get our vote on his latest effort to stop streamroller legislation, this one on establishing a statewide school start day, the third Monday in August. While supporters believe the later start for some school districts would give more vacation time to families, Leventis argues for home rule so that local school boards could set start dates as they do now. York, for instance, plans to start on Aug. 9 this fall. He's thoughtful about such issues that seem overwhelming, such as his unsuccessful effort to derail billboard legislation this year, but the families who want the later school start win this latest debate.

Thumbs down

No hogging, no clucking: A Senate committee has sent a so-called "right to farm" bill to the full Senate, and that spells trouble for counties that already have tougher zoning or regulations than the state dictates on such enterprises as hog farms and poultry farms. The bill would deny local communities tougher restrictions on buffer zones and the like. Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, a supporter of the bill, ought to have to live only as far from smelly agricultural farming as the state allows.

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