Earl J. Baker, Florida State University, Tallahassee
Even excluding effects in the Caribbean, Hugo was the most damaging hurricane in U.S. history prior to Hurricane Andrew. The remarkable aspect of Hugo was the size of the area severely affected by the storm's winds. Although quantitative data are not available by county, winds remained strong far enough inland to cause significant damage throughout eastern South Carolina and into North Carolina. Twenty-six of South Carolina's 46 counties, covering two-thirds of the state, were declared federal disaster areas. Only five of these counties are along the coast.
Recovery would have been difficult enough in individual communities had their neighbors not been similarly affected. The worst of the damage in Hugo was comparable to that experienced in Hurricanes Eloise, Frederic, and Alicia. However, the large area that experienced severe wind damage complicated the recovery process. Residents could not drive to the next county for supplies or to stay with unaffected friends or relatives. Aid to both individuals and governments had to come from farther away and be distributed over a very large area to a large number of people and communities.
IMMEDIATE POST-STORM ENVIRONMENT
In South Carolina a total of 27 deaths were eventually blamed on Hugo. Only about half occurred during the storm, seven from wind and six from water, with five of the water-related fatalities occurring on boats. The remaining deaths occurred mainly from cleanup accidents and in fires as open flames were being used for light.
According to a Red Cross survey, 9,302 homes were completely destroyed, more than half of which were mobile homes (Wescott, 1990). Another 26,772 suffered major damage, and 75,702 had minor damage. Telephone sample survey data collected after Hugo indicated that in Charleston 43 percent of all homes experienced at least $10,000 in damage, and 11 percent were not habitable (Baker, 1990). The percentages were much higher on islands such as Folly Beach, Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms, and Garden City Beach. Except on the islands, most of the damage resulted from wind directly battering houses or from trees being blown onto houses.
Between 1 million and 1.5 million customers were without electrical power for 2 to 3 weeks. Some areas required even longer for power to be restored. More than a week after landfall, only a fourth of Charleston had electricity. Chapter 14 (Lifelines) also describes other services, such as sanitation, which were unavailable following the storm. Twenty to thirty percent of surveyed households were out of work for at least a week (Baker, 1990).
Residents were eager to return to the severely affected island communities of Sullivans Island and Isle of Palms to assess and cope with their losses. Officials kept residents out for several days, however, as buildings were inspected for safety and as other precautions were taken. Severe tensions developed between residents and officials as a result.
Food and water were needed by many in the days following the storm, and during the first 24 hours there were incidents of anxiety among residents as relief workers were unable to immediately attend to victims. The Red Cross and other groups served well over 1 million meals in the weeks following Hugo and provided temporary shelter for families unable to return to their homes (Kushma, 1990). In Charleston, 20 percent of surveyed households received food following the storm, and in more severely affected locations even more required emergency food supplies. More than one-fourth said they ran short of water. There were long lines at Salvation Army centers more than a week following the storm, consisting primarily of very-low-income residents.
In South Carolina there were $2.3 billion in insurance claims for wind damage, with an additional $645 million in North Carolina (National Committee on Property Insurance, 1990). Total claims under the NFIP were over $300 million, with the vast majority being in South Carolina, where the average flood claim was more than $30,000 (compared with under $7,000 in North Carolina).
Insurance appeared to provide the great majority of financial recovery capital among families and businesses, but approximately 15 percent of surveyed households reported having no insurance of any kind (Baker, 1990). Although quantitative data are lacking, there appear to have been numerous cases of financially able families and businesses failing to have adequate insurance.
FEDERAL ASSISTANCE FOR INDIVIDUALS, FAMILIES, AND BUSINESSES
The most visible and controversial federal relief program provided recovery grants up to $10,000 (plus cost-of-living adjustment from 1988) to individuals and families if they could show loss and failure to qualify for other assistance. The community in which individuals resided must first have been designated by FEMA to qualify for federal disaster assistance. In the Carolinas more than 37,000 families
and individuals (fewer than 1,000 in North Carolina) received Individual and Family Grant (IFG) funds totalling approximately $70 million. The average grant was under $1,900. In Charleston approximately 9 percent of residents surveyed said they recieved IFG funds from FEMA (Baker, 1990).
FEMA made temporary housing available to qualifying applicants in the form of either rent payments or actual housing. More than 30,000 individuals and families received more than $32 million in temporary housing assistance after Hugo in North and South Carolina, an average of just over $1,000 per application. People receiving IFG funds could also apply for temporary housing. In Charleston only 2 percent of surveyed households indicated that they received temporary housing, but the percentage was probably higher in badly flooded areas, where more structures were destroyed or made uninhabitable.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) made loans to qualifying business and individual applicants at low interest rates (varying from 4 to 8 percent) to assist with disaster recovery. After Hugo almost 8,000 such loans were approved, totalling more than $150 million (to be paid out gradually). The average loan was just over $19,500, with loans to individuals somewhat lower at $14,100. Eighty percent of the loans (57 percent of the funds) were made to individuals. In severely flooded areas, more than 10 percent of the households received SBA loans (Baker, 1990).
Federal programs also provided other forms of assistance to individuals such as food stamps. In Charleston, 18 percent of surveyed homes received food stamps following Hugo (Baker, 1990), and during their first 3 days of availability more, than $10 million in food stamps was distributed.
For the above forms of assistance to become available, FEMA had to respond to the requests of the respective state governors, and determine whether the magnitude of the disaster exceeded the capabilities of state and local resources. Normally local governments work with state emergency management officials to estimate damages, which provide the basis for the governor's request. FEMA then has a team perform an independent damage assessment. That survey plays the major role in determining whether FEMA recommends to the President that the communities requesting assistance be made eligible for federal disaster assistance.
If a “declaration” is issued, FEMA works with state and local authorities to identify buildings that can be used as Disaster Assistance Centers (DACs), facilities housing government employees and volunteers who process information concerning applicants' requests. Applicants must have actually suffered certain types of damages and demonstrate that their losses were not covered by insurance. After meeting those two conditions, it is determined whether applicants qualify financially for an SBA loan. If not, they probably qualify for IFG funding or temporary housing, as well as other programs such as food stamps.
The process includes two important components: delay and eligibility. That is, IFGs, temporary housing, SBA loans, and other programs do not become available immediately and routinely following the landfall of a hurricane; individuals do not automatically qualify for the programs. It was obvious after Hugo that many residents, elected officials, and emergency management officials were unaware of
many aspects of the process, including delay and eligibility. Half the households surveyed 4 months following Hugo rated government assistance fair or poor, and the passage of time (and tempering of emotions) probably improved the government's ratings.
Given the obvious extent and severity of damage, FEMA accelerated the disaster declaration process as much as possible, issuing the notice for several South Carolina counties on the morning following landfall. The agency dispatched representatives from its Atlanta regional office to Raleigh, North Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, the day before landfall so they would be in position to assess damage and begin DAC preparations wherever landfall occurred in the region. DACs are normally opened 4 days following a declaration. However, the first DACs were not opened in South Carolina until a week after the storm primarily because of the severity of damage, slow ground transportation, lack of communications and power, and other complications. There had been no seasonal preplanning for DACs in the area before Hugo.
There were initial complaints about the length of time taken for the centers to open, and then there were grievances about the application process, the limited assistance not available, and the length of time between application and assistance. In short, many victims expected more relief to be immediately available and with fewer questions asked (Baker, 1990). Applications continued far longer than normal; in January, FEMA was still receiving 400 requests per week.
Many of the kinds of immediate assistance expected from FEMA were provided by the Red Cross, Salvation Army, Mennonite Disaster Service, and other volunteer organizations. These services were particularly needed after Hugo because the emergency created by the widespread damage to people's homes, was exacerbated by the forced closure of stores and banks. Relief organizations provided ice, disposable diapers, food, cleaning supplies, clothing and blankets, and other types of basic assistance. It was mentioned earlier that organizations served more than a million meals after Hugo. The Red Cross operated 35 Service Centers, comparable to DACs, where individuals could receive vouchers to be used as cash at stores. More than 35,000 cases were processed at Service Centers at a total cost of $14 million.
Volunteer organizations depended upon contributions in order to provide assistance, and the uncoordinated, heterogeneous flood of donations posed a tremendous challenge. The Red Cross officially solicits and accepts only money, because of the difficulty in sorting through mountains of often unneeded items. It is much easier for people to donate surplus food, clothes, and blankets than money, however, and donations of such goods poured primarily into Charleston.
Trucks with donated items were dispatched independently and unilaterally from all over the United States. Truck drivers arrived in Charleston and asked where to take their loads. Makeshift staging areas were designated for the trucks to wait to be
unloaded, and warehouse storage had to be arranged to house unloaded goods. Military personnel were eventually used to unload many of the trucks and to sort the contents. Donations were then sent to locations according to need. The system evolved on an ad hoc basis and in reality did not run smoothly. Outlying rural communities and counties complained that their needs were going unmet while the Charleston area had surpluses in warehouses. Whereas similar difficulties associated with donation convergence are common following a disaster, the scale of the Hugo experience magnified the phenomenon. However, public perception of the performance of volunteer organizations was generally very good (Baker, 1990).
FEDERAL ASSISTANCE TO STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT
FEMA grants to state and local governments, called “public assistance,” exceeded $270 million and were expected to reach $300 million. More than 80 percent of that total went to South Carolina. Approximately one-third of the money went for debris removal, one-third for restoration of municipally owned utilities, and one-third for roads and bridges, waste control, protective measures, government buildings, and recreational facilities. State and local governments receiving FEMA disaster assistance normally are required to pay for 25 percent of the losses, but in Hugo FEMA excused the state and local contribution for damages in excess of $10 per capita in South Carolina. The amount of federal disaster assistance to governments was roughly three times the sum given to individuals and families under the IFG and temporary housing programs together and exceeded the combined IFG, temporary housing, and SBA loan programs.
Just as many individuals and local officials were dissatisfied with certain aspects of the federal assistance program. Much of the early confusion and rancor stemmed from misconceptions by public officials about the kinds of assistance available, their obligations to pay for part of the costs, and the need to channel requests to FEMA through the governor's office. There was particular confusion regarding the availability, role, and cost of military personnel and equipment used for disaster recovery.
Baker, E. J. 1990. Mainland Effects of Hurricane Hugo. Tallahassee, Florida: Hazards Management Group.
Kushma, J. 1990. Personal communication with E. J. Baker. January 1990.
National Committee on Property Insurance. 1990. Personal communication with E. J. Baker via Eugene Lecomte. January 1990.
Wescott, K. 1990. Personal communication with E. J. Baker. January 1990.