A year ago, Beaufort County was a wreck. Hurricane Matthew brought Category 2 winds and severe flooding to much of the county. It left roads impassable and homes severely damaged. It sucked sand from the beach. It wasted entire marinas, and sent countless docks into the surf. Power was out, and sewer systems were gimpy.
Personal bank accounts were hemorrhaging cash due to the high cost of evacuation. Add to that the loss of income for many residents. And then came the financial whammy of getting fallen trees off houses and out of yards, with unknown contractors working the streets, quoting five-figure sums to remove trees and demanding payment up front.
Then came the trouble and expense of home repair, a saga that has not yet ended for some residents. Negotiations with insurance providers was often a headache.
As we observe the first anniversary of the largest storm to hit Beaufort County in recent memory, we must first thank our governments for doing a great job, especially the Town of Hilton Head Island, which was hit hardest.
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We can look back and say we have learned that:
▪ Cash reserves must be in place, and once spent, they must be replaced pronto.
▪ More land is needed for debris collection.
▪ The dull work of government is the most important when storms hit: the grind of government paperwork to collect federal dollars, the task of documenting the impact on every building, the duty of expediting permits to get repair work humming quickly, and adherence to plans and protocols that took so long to prepare. We’ve learned that “grunt work” is more important than visioning.
▪ Communication — swift and accurate — with the public is not a nicety but mandatory from all authorities, POAs and utilities.
▪ Plans for re-entry are equally important to evacuation. Businesses have a legitimate beef when they cannot get workers and supplies to evacuated barrier islands ahead of the crowd.
▪ Keeping drainage ditches and stormwater systems clear of debris and flowing freely must be a top priority year-round every year. It’s too late when the flooding starts.
▪ Insurance for homes and businesses promises to be more costly in the future. Governments must quit permitting construction in harm’s way, and must do much more to get people to relocate or mitigate potential damage in flood-prone areas, which is most of Beaufort County.
▪ The private sector is equally important to governments in recovery from a hurricane. Good Samaritans from many states came to Beaufort County to help. Churches and civic clubs responded. The Community Foundation of the Lowcountry reacted with a special system to take grant requests and push the money out, quickly and fairly. And countless people unassociated with any organization reached out to help. People also supported first responders, including power company linemen. Safety-net organizations were stretched thin: People lost food due to power outages, they lost income, and in some cases they lost their homes. We saw the power of charitable work — and the necessity of it.
Hurricane Matthew was not the big one. It was nothing like Hurricane Hugo, which blasted the Lowcountry in 1989. But it was bad. And from that experience, everyone in Beaufort County must learn how to be better prepared for the future.