Opinion

Hurricane Hugo, 25 years ago

When Hurricane Hugo came roaring through Charlotte 25 years ago today, it left the city bereft of trees and without power for up to 18 days. It brought out the best and the worst of us, and lots for this editorial board to comment on. Here’s a sampling:

Editorial, Sept. 23, the day after the storm: “Reserve a special place for Hurricane Hugo in the den of devil storms to assault the Carolinas. From early damage estimates, it is certain to rank among the most destructive onslaughts of this century.... All across Charlotte, the hulks of huge trees lay athwart roofs and automobiles, streets and driveways, church yards and cemeteries, where Hugo had flung them. The city of trees had become a city of firewood..... We are momentarily stunned. But by 8 a.m. Friday, Charlotteans were pitching in to clear streets of fallen trees . Hugo the Howler had come and gone. And now, having seen the damage, we resolve to rebuild and replant.”

Observer Editor Rich Oppel’s Sunday (Sept. 24) column about fights breaking out at gas stations when pumps ran low: “What is it about cars? We have 10,000-pound trees creasing roofs, no power for two days, few telephones working and ice is scarce. But are the neighborhoods crazy? No. We're holding the best street parties ever. Yet, Charlotte's streets turn mean at the gas pumps. Cars bring out the irrational worst in us.”

Editorial, Sept. 24:Even after the roofs are fixed, the downed trees removed, the land smoothed and replanted, the name Hugo will be carved into the landscape, written large in the empty spaces, in the places where trees and buildings used to be... Where Hugo swept away structures built in the hazard zone in years past, today’s policy must be to avoid repeating yesterday’s mistakes. Meanwhile, work proceeds to erase the hurricane’s graffiti from the landscape. It is work that will strain patience, pocketbooks and muscles. But it is work that can strengthen community as it shapes the face of tomorrow’s city and countryside. Though painful and expensive, it is work that teaches.”

Editorial, Sept. 25: “Hurricane Hugo was, indeed, a lesson in terror and humility... But... even in this grim moment, when hardship is real and will be lasting for so many, there is a kind of a celebration going on. Not a party, but something deeper as people join their hearts and lives – in churches, over rakes, at neighborhood potluck suppers, in carrying meals and sharing necessities. The storm will have many lessons to teach about policy and preparedness, but none will be more important than the lessons of the heart about our common humanity and our responsibility for each other.”

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