May/June 2006Unexpected Consequences: Fruits (and Vegetables) of Disasterby Marc Rapport

One of the most devastating weather events to occur in South Carolina, and the United States, was the Great Sea Islands Storm of 1893 that killed several thousand people, most of them freed slaves and their families or descendants, on low-lying islands such as St. Helena and Lady, near Beaufort.

Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, helped with the relief effort. She said that on "August twenty-seventh, 1893, a hurricane made landfall in Georgia just south of Beaufort. The hurricane went on to hit our own Sea Islands (it then followed a curve like an archer's bow through the middle of South and North Carolina to die in central Virginia)."

The islands were covered with up to seventeen feet of water. About 35,000 people lived on them, Barton said, and perhaps five thousand were killed. The rest were left homeless and many gathered in the streets of Beaufort hoping for work and relief.
In her book, A Story of the Red Cross: Glimpses of Field Work, Barton also wrote of recovery:

"The submerged lands were drained, three hundred miles of ditches were made, a million feet of lumber purchased and houses built, fields and gardens planted with the best seed in the United States, and the work was all done by the people themselves.

"Domestic gardens were a new feature among these islanders, whose whole attention had been always given to the raising of the renowned 'Sea Island Cotton.' The result of this innovation was that, when we left in July 1894, it was nearly as difficult for a pedestrian to make his way on the narrow sidewalks of Beaufort because of piled-up vegetables, as it had been in October to pass through the streets because of hungry, idle men and women."

(Excerpted from the August 27, 2000, "Answer Man" column in the Beaufort Gazette by Dennis Adams, information services coordinator at the Beaufort County Library.)

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