Originally created 09/15/99

Storms hitting inland can be deadly, costly



As coastal cities prepare for the ravages of Hurricane Floyd, inland residents as far north as North Carolina are also keeping a nervous eye on the weather. They no longer are as naive as they were a decade ago about the destruction storms can cause in the heart of a state.

"It took us, in Columbia, the better part of a month to get back to normal," said Charles Williams, assistant city manager, remembering the devastating effects of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. "We had residential areas that didn't have power for close to a month. And the damages were substantial. In my neighborhood, for two solid square blocks, there wasn't a house that didn't have a tree laying across the roof."

Hugo, a Category 4 hurricane that hit land northeast of Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 21, 1989, chewed its way through the center of South Carolina and into Charlotte in western North Carolina, downing trees and power lines. Some Charlotte residents were left without power for a week, and damages were estimated at about $8.5 billion. In the United States, 49 people were killed.

"I don't think a lot of people realized how much damage it could do inland," said Mike Willis of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, who was working Tuesday with South Carolina Emergency Preparedness to prepare for Floyd. "I think it did surprise some people, especially a generation that had never experienced something of that magnitude."

Inland cities took another hit in 1996, when Hurricane Fran slammed into the southern North Carolina coast and worked its way west, spawning floods, causing $3.2 billion in damage and killing 37 people. More than 2 million people in North Carolina and Virginia lost electrical power.

"I lost everything in my refrigerator," said Lisa Reichle, an Orange County resident who went without power for eight days. "I did end up going to a friend's house just to get a shower. There were a lot of cold showers, a lot of washing your hair in the sink."

A microburst storm destroyed two acres of trees in a wooded area behind her home, stopping just short of a neighbor's property line.

"We were extremely lucky," she said. "A lot people weren't that lucky."