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[Harper's Finest]

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

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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.”

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