Celebrating Our Culture
Living in the Danger Zone
An Interview with Bill and Fran Marscher
By Joyce Dixon
One month into hurricane season, 2001 has already become noteworthy with Tropical Storm Allison. The stormís attack on the United States began June 6th southeast of Galveston, Texas and lasted more than ten days. Ten states were affected by Allison, including: Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.
Allison has been blamed for at least 41 deaths and dozens of injuries. Louisiana and the area surrounding Houston, Texas had up to 40 inches of rainfall. More than 20,000 people were forced from their homes. Hurricanes are serious business, and Allison was just a tropical storm.
Bill and Fran Marscher are natives of Beaufort, South Carolina. Over the years they have prepared for the storm season and have first hand knowledge of living in the danger zone. Bill Marscher is a retired engineer, and Fran Marscher is a retired newspaper editor. Together, this husband and wife team has written a fact-filled book entitled, Living in the Danger Zone: Realities about Hurricanes.
Growing up in Beaufort County, South Carolina, what were the legends associated with the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893?
The legends we heard as children about the Great Sea Island Storm included those of parents pushing their children into oak trees to protect them from rising water; bodies washing up in the marshes; Bill's grandfather physically carrying his grandmother through four feet of raging waters to a safe building on the night of the hurricane in Beaufort.
Living in the Danger Zone is part history, part survival manual, and part futureshock as it relates to population growth. What was the inspiration behind this book?
The inspiration for the book was probably the truth that we have heard so many people's misinformation about hurricanes. We felt it worth our time to learn what we could from the best sources available in order to get people at least talking about the risks and what to do about them.
At one time South Carolina had a law that beach structures destroyed by storms could not be rebuilt. Yet, after Hugo, the beaches were redeveloped. What was behind this change?
South Carolina does have a strong beachfront management law, and the courts recently upheld its prohibition against hard structures on the beach. However, the law does make exceptions for pre-existing development.
Savannah and the Sea Islands have missed several near disasters in the past decade. Hugo was forecast to hit Savannah till 2:30pm that day when it changed course toward Charleston. This has happened several times. Does the land profile and Gulf Stream form a barrier of protection for this area, or are the residents living in a false sense of security?
Residents live in a false sense of security. The book lists the risk factors the Hurricane Center has calculated for various regions of the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. The forecasters say the paths of hurricanes are determined by steering currents in the upper atmosphere, not the shape of the coastline.
What changes in building codes and island development do you feel need to be made?
Codes, building designs, land use enforcement of development and building laws should be strengthened to address the problem. (They vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.) As more and more people move into homes too fragile to resist hurricanes, in areas vulnerable to them, we are going to see more and more loss and suffering. These are big issues. Our hope is that Living in the Danger Zone will help motivate coastal residents to seek out the best advice available and improve their own situations and those of the communities they call home. (We have high hopes.)
Even with all the modern forecasting tools, hurricane prediction is not an exact science. After Floyd, evacuation of coastal Georgia and South Carolina came under attack. How could the evacuation of these areas be improved?
Improvements in evacuation can be done only increments. Clearly, we need better highway systems, adjustments everywhere during the peak of hurricane season (in many cases also the peak of the beach vacation season), lane reversals, etc. Most important of all, we need widespread understanding of the value of early evacuations during threats and understanding of the uncertainties the forecasters face. Science is not going to save us any time soon.
What should tourists and new coastal residents know about evacuation?
Tourists and residents should come to expect to evacuate from time to time during hurricane season. All should have a plan about what to do and where to go. Preparations for the contingencies of evacuation should become as routine as wearing seatbelts and watching out for the amount of fat in the diet. Those on the coast July through October certainly should tune in to weather reports, remain alert and be ready to pack up and leave when it's time. If they don't have to go, they should rejoice.
When should coastal dwellers prepare for the storm season, and what should be in their hurricane survival kit?
Coastal residents should prepare for the storm season when they decide where to live, when they decide what kind of house to live in, when they make all of life's important decisions. (Elderly and disabled people people unable to handle boarding up and evacuating ought not live in evacuation zones. The able-bodied at least should keep 'to do' lists up to date, make sure their homes are as resistant as practical, pack hurricane kits every June. Details will vary from household to household.
Which hurricane survivor story moved you the most?
The stories of the hurricane survivors brought us to tears. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, families with young children and elderly retirees alike were thrown into homelessness. In 1935, in the Florida Keys, a little boy lost both of his parents. In 1893, a 17-year-old saved his 4-year-old brother's life but saw his mother fall into raging waters on St. Helena Island in South Carolina. It's awful to think of people losing most of their belongings in only a few hours of violent winds and/or storm surge.
What hurricane memory stands out in your personal experience?
Hurricane Floyd may have given us our most trying hurricane experience personally. We boarded up our windows, boarded up the windows of my mother's home (with help from a family members construction company employees) and then drove for seven grueling hours to the Augusta area (should have been a two-hour trip). When we realized that the North Carolinians' worst ever natural disaster could have come to us instead of them, we felt faint.
We have not had the kinds of terrible tragedies others have faced. Our book is based more on what we learned by talking to people and reading rather on our personal experiences.
Contact Bill and Fran Marscher at: email@example.com
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