MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. -- If Hurricane Hugo smashed into the South Carolina coast this year, recovery would be more expensive and much slower than a decade ago, emergency officials were warned Wednesday during the state's annual hurricane conference.
"We have set ourselves up for another disaster," said Chris Brooks, bureau chief of the state Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management.
Bob Sheets, former director of the National Hurricane Center, said Hugo was a warning that hurricanes will be more frequent and severe along the Atlantic Coast.
"If you look at the next 15 to 20 years, it looks like we're in for a much more active period," Mr. Sheets said. Fifty-three named storms and 33 hurricanes have made the past four years the most active for hurricane activity this century, he said.
This year's conference focused on lessons learned in the years since Hugo.
The hurricane season opens June 1, and Colorado State University researcher William Gray predicts 14 storms strong enough to be named. Of those, nine will grow to hurricanes and four to intense hurricanes, he said.
Hugo smashed into the coast in September 1989 with winds of 135 mph causing $6.2 billion in property damage.
The state Beachfront Management Act pushed new construction away from the water, but what was rebuilt is generally bigger and more expensive, Mr. Brooks said.
"As a result of Hurricane Hugo, we backed the people up. We took away the seawalls and revetments. They take the risk," he said.
But, Mr. Brooks warned: "We have set ourselves up for another expensive proposition with the next storm. It is going to take common sense as well as the law to change the vulnerable situation on our coastlines."
If a storm hit this year, with the economy booming, rebuilding would be slow, said Doug Woodward, a University of South Carolina economist.
"Finding the materials and the construction workers now will be more difficult than back then," Mr. Woodward said. "You can't find Sheetrock to build houses today even under normal conditions."
Officials should give some thought now to what types of price controls might be needed on what items instead of waiting until after a disaster, he said.
Forecasting technology has improved in the decade since Hugo, and officials are doing a good job evacuating people from barrier islands, Mr. Sheets said. However, the number of mobile homes in coastal areas has mushroomed, he said, and, "Where we are not in good shape is the mobile home communities."
He also said newly constructed homes should be required to be designed with an interior "safe room" with thick plywood walls and ceilings where people can go in the event of a hurricane or tornado.
"We do know how to correct these problems. It's the political will that's not there," Mr. Sheets said.