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Something nice to say about Gov. Haley

Posted: February 14, 2014 6:15 p.m.
Updated: February 17, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Whether she got great advice from her team or she made the decision on her own, kudos to S.C. Gov. Nikki Haley for declaring a state of emergency during our recent winter storm. It was absolutely the right thing to do.

I’ve lived in the South since the early 1980s when I transferred from Syracuse University to Memphis (following a brief few months trying to find work in the D.C. area). I’ll never forget two things about Memphis when it came to the kind of weather we experienced.

The first time my sister and I visited my mother and her family in Memphis was Christmas 1982. The family picked us up at the airport, a considerable distance from our home on the east side of the city. While passing by a new neighborhood being constructed, I noticed a lot where only the first two or three layers of brick had been laid down. The rest of the lot was a grass-colored sheet of ice.

You’ve heard of lake-effect snow up north? How about Mississippi River-effect freezing rain? That’s what we ended up with often in Memphis, especially around Thanksgiving.

The other thing I remember about Memphis is that most folks did not -- and I’m not being disparaging here; it was just a fact -- know how to drive in such weather. Heck, there were plenty of people there who didn’t know how to drive in good weather. (Example: people signaling left a good quarter-mile before a turning lane was even available.)

Anyway, between my degree programs, I lived in Dahlonega, Ga., about 45 minutes north of Atlanta up in the mountains. Now they know about snow. The roads were appropriately deserted and I often needed a county deputy to drive me to the radio station I worked at on such days.

When I moved here to the Midlands of South Carolina ... well, I can’t help it and I’m going to come across sounding like a Yankee. By the mid-1990s, it was plainly evident: Columbia and the surrounding areas go absolutely bananas at the first sign of a snowflake.

And because of that, there were often far more accidents than there should have been.

This time, though, things turned out very differently from the stereotypical mess I’ve experienced during my nearly 25 years in the Midlands. Statewide, as Gary Phillips reported in Friday’s edition, the S.C. Highway Patrol responded to 4,510 calls for service between 6 p.m. Feb. 11 and 6 a.m. Friday. Of those, 1,305 involved collisions; another 311 dealt with abandoned cars.

The call to stay home worked. As far as I know, only four people died during the most recent storm.

Keep in mind, that’s during a major winter storm by South Carolina standards. Not bad, if you ask me, and indicative of why I’m praising Gov. Haley on this particular issue.

She made absolutely the right call in declaring a state of emergency and telling people to stay off the roads. Thankfully, most people took her advice.

On Feb. 12, when most of the snow, sleet and freezing rain began to fall, Haley spoke from the S.C. Emergency Management Center and told folks to “hunker down and stay home.” Her main purpose in declaring the state of emergency was precautionary: she wanted to make sure the government could get generators, food, water -- whatever -- so that our state would be safe.

It was a good call. According to various media reports, 82,000 homes lost power before noon that day; by Friday morning there were still 240,000 homes without power, down from Thursday’s high of 346,000. Considering 2013 estimates puts South Carolina’s population at just under 4.75 million, that means about 13 percent of our state’s households had no power.

According to other sources, as of Friday morning, Aiken County was the worst hit with more than 34,000 households without power. Nearest to us, it looks like Florence and Sumter were hit hard, with more than 14,500  and nearly 10,600 without power, respectively.

It’s been a tough few weeks, what with an almost equally rough storm just two weeks before this one. Locally, some folks criticized the school district for closing down on a day where we barely saw any precipitation. Minds changed by the next morning: extremely cold weather made it tough to start up bus engines.

This time, the district kept schools and offices closed for most of the week. In both cases, school officials made the right call and, as the parent of both elementary and middle school students, I truly appreciated it.

Even we at the C-I were affected, closing down for two days and coming in Saturday to make up for it. Wednesday’s paper wasn’t delivered to subscribers until Friday; Friday’s paper didn’t go out until Saturday. Like the school district and most other employers, we felt it was more important for our employees -- especially our drivers, who pick up our print runs in Florence -- to be safe than to get the paper out on time. We heeded the governor’s words, too.

Here in Camden, most neighborhood roads didn’t really clear up until Friday morning, anyway. It was almost impossible for folks without just the right kind of vehicle and tires to get around. Even, then that was in town. Out in the rest of the county ... well, it depended on where you live. It was safer, indeed, to “hunker down and stay home.”

Let’s compare this to Storm 1 and its effect on Atlanta. I lived there, too, if only for a few months and visited often. When I was snowed-in in Dahlonega, I was a little too busy to pay attention to what was happening south of me.

But I have no memory of what that city went through three weeks ago. At least during Storm 2, most TV stations and networks broadcasting from there showed pretty much empty streets. So, it seems like folks there learned their lesson.

I would say, though, that Gov. Haley wins this round against Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal. In this case, that’s a very good thing for our citizens and our state.

I don’t often have nice things to say about Gov. Haley and I’m sure I’ll have to reason to criticize her in the future.

But not this time.

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