Nikki Haley referred to “the Thousand-Year Flood” when she spoke of what happened to the Palmetto State during the first week of October. Survivors of Hugo might think that was an exaggeration, but it really wasn’t. Scientists say that rains that overpowering can occur twice during a 10-year period, but then not happen again for another 10,000 years.
They were unrelenting. Eleven trillion gallons of torrential rains fell on the Carolinas during this October’s first seven days. Not drops. Gallons. Although that was reported by many reputable media, it is almost unimaginable. Are there that many planets in the universe? That many grains of sand on planet Earth? I don't know. I just know we had a lot of rain!
It fell everywhere, impacting all South Carolinians. Some 3.2 billion gallons fell on the Charleston peninsula. Put another way, 23 inches rained down on the old historic heart of the Holy City. People in Clinton, my old hometown, say that they began to feel like building an ark. But as it turned out, it was the Midlands that suffered the worst of it.
I collect old quotes and proverbs. Here is one which doesn’t fall into that category but should: “Anarchy dies when the rivers rise.” Fear of governments is not necessarily an irrational emotion. We should always bring to the table the notion of placing reasonable limits whenever we set out to build governments and establish their jurisdiction.
But our recent Thousand Year Flood, like any natural disaster, should serve as a teachable moment. There are useful, even necessary, services which government, operating alongside churches, local groups, and NGOs but in some cases acting alone, has to provide. When crises hit people need hospitals, agencies for evacuation and public safety, assistance in cleaning up and rebuilding, infrastructure to enable them to get around. Not even anarchists can really deny that. When public budgets are made it is foolhardy to impoverish agencies of government which contribute to the public good.
Last week’s Chronicle reported on what local people and groups did to help each other in the aftermath of the great flood of 2015. It is a part of a remarkable neighbor-helping-neighbor story that occurred across our state. I am proud of that. Every South Carolinian should feel proud.
At the governmental level, Governor Haley, who served well as consoler-in-chief after this summer’s Emanuel AME murders, has now proven herself as a crisis manager following our great October flood. But alas Her Honor presides over a state government that is notoriously stingy in funding many vital services. Nowhere is that chickens-come-home-to-roost fact more apparent right now than in the wretched condition of our transportation infrastructure. North Carolina, itself no public sector sugar daddy, regularly provides several times what we do for infrastructure. That is why gasoline costs more in the Tarheel State.
Things were pretty deplorable here even before the flood. Now disaster has struck. The Thousand Year Flood closed hundreds of roads and dozens of bridges. Woefully maintained, many remain closed. Many that have reopened are in even worse decrepit—and hazardous!-- shape than before.
Could all of this have been avoided by a better infrastructure program? No, not all. This was the Thousand Year Flood after all. But much of the huge costs we now face, financially but also in comfort and safety terms, lie at our doorstep. They are due to the fiscal stinginess of those we elected to lead and serve us.
A final note. Consider this a comment about what the Bible says about loving our neighbor and about who our neighbor is. After national media began reporting on our flood and its impact, you may have heard from people out of state who wanted to know you were alright. We happened to hear from some sympathetic friends who live in the region hit so hard by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. It brought to mind a Sandy relief bill that Congress finally passed after much delay. I remembered sadly that every single member of our own Washington delegation save one, Jim Clyburn, had voted “no” on Sandy relief. About that I am anything but proud.
(Now retired and living in Charleston, David Gillespie and his wife Judi resided in Clinton from 1979 to 2006. At PC, David taught political science and Judi served as Financial Aid Director.)