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A Category 4 Hurricane Slammed the Carolinas in 1954—and Left a Surprising Legacy

September 12, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Fortunately most vacationers had left by the time Hurricane Hazel struck, but multiple buildings near Myrtle Beach were destroyed or damaged.

The aftermath of Hurricane Hazel in North Carolina, 1954.

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The damage done at Myrtle Beach by Hurricane Hazel.

Most of the Myrtle Beach buildings Hazel destroyed were small beach shacks, motels and family businesses. After the destruction, many families who owned property in Myrtle Beach sold it to real estate developers who then built bigger motels, hotels and condos over the next several decades, according to South Carolina’s The Post and Courier. That shift led to a surge in development that now accommodates Myrtle Beach as a popular tourist destination.

Today, there are thousands more people living in the Carolinas’ coastal areas and, in fact, many more people now live in coastal areas, period, which is why the price of hurricane disasters has skyrocketed over time.

“Just about any major hurricane you can think of in the last 20 years, they’re multi-billion dollar disasters,” Barnes says. “These are storms that are really becoming expensive because of the areas they’ve impacted, and the number of people and the amount of property that’s there to be damaged.”

One of the most positive developments since Hazel is that the National Hurricane Center is able to predict storms well in advance so that people can be notified and evacuate in time (the deadliest recorded hurricane in U.S. history killed 6,000 to 12,000 people because of inaccurate predictions). This doesn’t mean government officials always respond efficiently to this information—Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Maria come to mind—but when the information is used effectively, it has the power to save lives.

As climate change increases the severity of hurricanes, experts point out that effective response becomes all the more critical.

“We’re going to continue to get the worst storms, and it’s recurring in that the same areas are going to be hit over and over through the decades over time,” says Barnes. “So in the 1950s Hazel was a benchmark—will Florence become the new benchmark for North Carolina hurricanes? It’s possible.”

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