Harper's Finest — November 20, 2012, 2:30 pm

Bob Shacochis’s “Written in the Big Wind” (1991)

Why development persists in coastal areas, despite the threat of hurricanes

We’ve just posted from our archive “Written in the Big Wind,” a cover feature by Bob Shacochis from September 1991. Shacochis, a long-time contributing editor to Harper’s Magazine, wrote this 8,000-word piece in the wake of 1989′s Hurricane Hugo, a storm whose “notoriety was such that meteorologists retired his name from their lists, the first stateside hurricane to be inducted into ruination’s hall of fame since Camille in 1969.” 

Published before climate change had fully entered the public’s consciousness, “Written in the Big Wind” asks why development persists in coastal areas despite the threat of hurricanes, and deconstructs the cyclical media response and eventual forgetting that accompany major storms: 

The language of catastrophe is depressingly uniform; profiles in terror are delivered in the voice of Everyman. One ravished community becomes all ravished communities; one mutilated environment easily resembles the next. Businesses and dwellings nowhere to be found; “beautiful white beach houses turned inside out and stacked 30 and 40 feet high”; roads undermined, sections of bridge collapsed; the toppled trees blanketing crushed cars, the ones left standing stripped entirely of their foliage, the infrastructure ruptured — no electricity, no water, no phones, no sewerage; survivors wandering like zombies through the wreckage; the pooled mud and oppressive heat and “sick yellow” sky; dozens of wild boars washed in from the barrier islands, floating dead at the water’s edge; the air rotten “because there were so many dead things around”; chain-link fences collaged with death, their mesh stuffed with birds.

“Not Hugo and Charleston,” Shacochis adds of the quotes, “but Camille and Gulfport, Mississippi.”

Share
Single Page

More from Harper’s Magazine:

Official Business March 17, 2015, 4:01 am

Radio Hustle

Listen to the broadcast version of “American Hustle,” Alexandra Starr’s story, for the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, about how elite youth basketball exploits African athletes.

Official Business January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm

The Art of Outrage

We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.

Memento Mori September 2, 2014, 5:33 pm

Charles Bowden (1945–2014)

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2016

Psychedelic Trap

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Hamilton Cult

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Held Back

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Division Street

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Innocents

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Quiet Car

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
The Hamilton Cult·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The past is complicated, and explaining it is not just a trick, but a gamble."
Illustration by Jimmy Turrell
Article
Division Street·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"Perfectly sane people lose access to housing every day, though the resultant ordeal may undermine some of that sanity, as it might yours and mine."
Photograph © Robert Gumpert
Article
Held Back·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"'We don’t know where the money went!' a woman cried out. 'They looted it! They stole our money!'"
Artwork by Mischelle Moy
Article
The Quiet Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.

Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.

Photograph by Joshua Lutz
Article
Innocents·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

"The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion."
Photograph © Nadia Shira Cohen

Average amount the company paid each of its 140 top executives last year:

$5,300,000

Between one fifth and one half of England’s leisure horses are obese.

Scientists in the Galápagos Islands credited an endangered giant tortoise named Diego with saving his species by fathering more than 800 offspring.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Mississippi Drift

By

Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'

Subscribe Today