The Andrew school of hurricane instruction is a hard school. If our leaders do not learn their lessons, one day they will have to repeat them.
In this regard, the city of Charleston could function as a kind of professor emeritus. Three years ago Charleston learned its lessons the hard way. Hurricane Hugo struck the city with devastating force. Now Florida and Louisiana are digging out from the calamity of Hurricane Andrew.One of the lessons we should have learned from Hugo was not learned well enough. The National Guard has too many foot soldiers and not enough civil engineers. Efforts have been made to recast the Guard's training, but the effort has not been sufficiently pursued.
It is necessary, of course, to train Guardsmen in the use of a rifle. But what Miami needed last week was a Guardsman with a chain saw. When Hugo struck Charleston, pine trees snapped like broken pencils. Fallen limbs blocked the streets. Reconstruction couldn't begin until the worst of the debris was cleared.
Three years ago Charleston went though the same spasms of anger after Hugo that Florida is having after Andrew. Fingers pointed. Distraught residents damned the Federal Emergency Management Agency for supposed ineptitude, but after tempers cooled, a consensus developed that FEMA had not performed so badly.
Here in Charleston, the city held postmortems in laying the blame. The mayor had not properly asked the governor for relief, or the governor had not executed the right request to the feds, or something else was not in proper sequence, and until the procedures were formally carried out, nothing could move. It was maddening. Now is the time to clarify these procedures.
Hugo and Andrew have lessons to teach us. The loss of electric power is the worst loss of all. The Army and the Guard should be stockpiling generators and training personnel to put them in action.
A city devastated by hurricane or earthquake is a wounded city. In the immediate aftermath, a spirit prevails of something close to exhilaration. Look, we survived! As the impact strikes home, the mood shifts to one of despair. Look, we're wiped out.
The character of the people and the character of their local leadership will determine when the mood will shift again to acceptance and hope. Look, life goes on. Three years after Hugo, Charleston has fully recovered. The blue roof tarpaulins have disappeared. This city is back in business. Miami will be, too.