While Vice President Al Gore was congratulating Gov. Jim Hodges in a video conference call Wednesday for his smooth handling of "the largest peacetime evacuation in the history of the United States," hundreds of thousands of South Carolinians, caught up in traffic jams trying to flee Charleston, were cursing Hodges' name.
Contrary to Gore's words, Hodges did not cover himself with glory in his handling of the Hurricane Floyd crisis.
Unlike Georgia, which opened its main highway arteries one-way out of Savannah and other coastal communities, South Carolina authorities didn't open Interstate 26 eastbound lanes to coastal traffic going inland until eight hours after Tuesday's evacuation order.
Many travelers spent nearly 20 hours in barely moving traffic. Engines overheated, tanks ran out of gas, tempers flared -- mostly at the governor. "Flog Hodges" signs (and worse) were scribbled out.
Among the Floyd refugees caught in the jam were 120 retirement home residents whose buses took 17 hours for a trip to Columbia that normally takes a few hours.
Hodges' fellow Democrat, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley, railed, "It is unconscionable what happened and I will not tolerate it again."
Riley rightfully fears that the awful jam-up will discourage Charlestonians from leaving the next time a major storm strikes.
Even Hodges admitted he erred in not moving sooner to relieve the horrendous congestion coming out of Charleston. When Riley's words got back to him, Hodges ordered that all four lanes of I-26 from Charleston to Holly Hill be opened. He also opened up other arteries out of coastal communities.
Hodges tried to pacify angry travelers by saying this was the first time anything as complex as reversing I-26 traffic had been tried. He flunks history, too. A decade ago, then-GOP Gov. Carroll Campbell moved swiftly to open I-26's eastbound lanes to westbound traffic in advance of Hurricane Hugo.
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