Most of us who lived through Hurricane Hugo, whether on the coast or inland in Charlotte, swore we wouldn't forget. Even now, 20 years later, people still tell how the mammoth storm flattened coastal South Carolina, denuded the Piedmont Carolinas and turned Charlotte streets into a lumberyard of fallen trees. They remember days or weeks without electricity. They remember the roar of the storm in the night and the smell of fresh timber, broken by the wind, when dawn came.
But it appears we have, in fact, either forgotten or dismissed many of Hugo's lessons.
In Charlotte, the hurricane was an almost unheard-of oddity: a storm that moved so fast it didn't weaken as it sped through the Piedmont. Duke spent $70 million on Hugo repairs, replacing 8,800 poles, 6,308 transformers and 700 miles of wire and cable.
Although it made many people rethink the wisdom of relying so heavily on above-ground power lines, any impetus to begin burying them died due to the immense cost of such a project.
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Yet it's worth remembering that only last year, Hurricane Ike moved into the Midwest from the Gulf of Mexico and caused damage that cost Duke Energy $55 million to repair.
At the coast, by contrast, hurricanes are an ever-present threat. Nevertheless, despite enduring billions in property damage, coastal development has only increased - subsidized by taxpayer dollars that underpin flood insurance, for instance.
Despite scientists' warnings about rising sea levels, the population of Carolinas' coastal counties grew 37 percent, to 2.1 million, between 1990 and 2008.
It seems the lure of the coast, and of the dollar - for developers, for rental property investors, for restaurant and hotel owners - has been stronger than the memories of the trauma. We appear to have not only ignored Hugo's lessons but to have created the potential for much vaster damage when the next Hugo comes along.
North Carolinians are also marking the anniversary of another hurricane this month. Hurricane Floyd hovered over eastern North Carolina 10 years ago last week, dumping close to two feet of rain in some places.
Floyd reminded us not only of nature's unpredictability (it exacerbated flooding from Hurricane Dennis a week earlier), but of the effect development has on drainage. Flood plain maps had become obsolete. Through years of paving once-permeable surfaces, we unwittingly changed the flooding patterns. With nowhere to go, the water ran off roads and roofs, making rivers flood far worse than they would have years earlier.
Some parts of eastern North Carolina, then and now, are understandably hungry for the economic jolt of development. But they should recognize that every parking lot makes it more difficult for water to soak in, and can force misery onto someone downstream.
There was one uplifting lesson from both Hugo and Floyd. We learned of North Carolinians' incredible spirit. In the wretched aftermath of both storms, residents went out of their way to help each other. From clearing debris to common courtesies at the store, people of good faith worked to help make life a little more tolerable for their neighbors. That's one lesson we're confident we won't forget.