Developer remembers Hugo: 'You have no choice but to get through it'


John Darby remembers well a previous hurricane called Hugo. It totaled his childhood home.

Now as Florida and Texas recover from two mammoth hits, a number of Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico, are in the middle of facing Hurricane Maria.

Darby, as the chief executive of The Beach Co. and immediate past president of the Trident CEO Council, has a unique insight into how coastal communities withstand and recover from these batterings.

Charleston and other parts of South Carolina faced tidal surges and flooding following Hurricane Irma, one of the strongest ever to the hit mainland United States.

Hurricane Hugo struck the state and Charleston on Sept. 21, 1989. It killed more than two dozen people in the state. 

"I lost my child hood home - just wiped it out," Darby told Palmetto Business Daily. "It had been a long time before that Charleston had seen a storm of the magnitude of Hugo. The eye went right over the area and it was close to high tide."

But, Darby recalls, those buildings constructed to new codes, new materials, and design structure, did not fold in the severe winds. 

"Some weathered the storm just fine," he said.

Inevitably, there was widespread flooding, but the only buildings flattened were those built maybe in the middle of the last century. Older historic buildings also survived.

"I think what will happen with these two storms (Irma and Harvey), what worked well with the code, and what did not, things will be adjusted accordingly," Darby said, adding that municipalities often have much tougher rules than those handed down from the federal level.

It is often as simple as making sure a city's insurance rating remains good.

"If Hurricane Hugo came through today, Charleston would withstand it much better," said Darby.

The developer does remember one other key take from Hurricane Hugo - it was a time when the U.S. Navy Base, a major economic driver, was closing down.

Hugo's aftermath generated a "significant building boom, created jobs and brought in insurance money," said Darby. "But the other thing is people lost their homes, lots of lives were affected, relationships were affected, marriages were stressed, families were stressed, and schools had to work out of trailers."

He added, "But you have no choice but to get through it."

Ten years after the storm, the Darby family home was still there and still a wreck. A decision was made to tear it down and rebuild, but crucially 10 feet higher. It's Darby's family home now.

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