Recent editorials from South Carolina newspapers:
The Post and Courier of Charleston on flood risks still posed by private dams:
Gov. Henry McMaster has generally gotten high marks for his decisions regarding limited coastal evacuation in advance of Hurricane Irma. It was a delicate task, given the shifting projections of where the storm might hit.
And credit the governor for a decision aimed at sparing the Midlands with another flooding catastrophe, when he ordered all dam owners statewide to lower water levels.
Recall the devastation that occurred in October 2015, when 51 of state's roughly 2,300 private dams failed as 16 inches of rain fell over just six hours, flooding homes, washing out roads and spurring state officials to take corrective actions.
Within a few weeks, the state issued emergency orders to replace or repair 76 dams classified as a "high hazard," meaning they could cost lives or cause severe damage to infrastructure. More than 180 other dams were flagged for non-emergency repairs.
But because the issue was a sleeping giant before the 2015 deluge, and many of the dam owners were in no position to pay for costly repairs, only a few of the high-hazard dams had been repaired by the time Hurricane Matthew struck the following October, causing about 25 more dam failures, mostly in the Pee Dee region.
And it could happen again.
The state Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has been working to improve private dam safety in the wake of the initial deluge. In some cases the agency has helped private owners secure Federal Emergency Management Agency funding to help pay for repairs.
But more than 100 at-risk dams remain to be repaired, rebuilt or removed.
And while the Legislature has provided more funding to DHEC's dam safety program, there is more for lawmakers to do. Legislation that would require property owners to have surety bonds to cover emergency repairs has yet to be approved, mainly because dam owners object to the costs of repairs to protect downstream properties.
Repairing or replacing the mostly earthen structures that turned streams into recreational lakes can cost anywhere from less than $100,000 to more than $1.5 million, and many of the property owners were unaware they even owned dams or were responsible for their upkeep.
A new round of private dam inspections started in February and is "way ahead of schedule," according to DHEC's head of environmental affairs, Myra Reece. So far, the agency has issued at least 36 permits to repair dams. A few dams have been removed altogether, one with the help of the nonprofit American Rivers.
DHEC's water bureau chief, Mark Hollis, said the agency has new tools, including a geographic information system that enables engineers in field offices to better monitor dams and respond to problems faster.
In trouble spots such as the Pee Dee region and the Gills Creek watershed near Columbia, where about 20 dams failed or were flagged for emergency repairs, at least two of the larger earthen dams have been replaced by concrete structures and work is underway on a third.
But problems still exist, mainly on the property owners' end. Most of the dams in question are more than 50 years old and are typically owned by individuals or homeowners' associations. Others were built by developers to create waterfront properties and never deeded over to landowners. When the 2015 emergency repair orders were issued, about 20 property owners simply did not respond.
Additionally, lagging dam repairs have held up the replacement of at least a dozen roads that were washed out, with the Department of Transportation refusing to take action until the dams are repaired.
In the coming legislative session, lawmakers will need to find a way to speed up repairs - even if it means shifting the burden to taxpayers at large, creating special tax districts or enlisting nonprofits to get the job done.
There were no reports of dam breaches during Irma, but the storm was another reminder of the work that still needs to be done to forestall another catastrophe.
The Sun News of Myrtle Beach on the importance of remaining aware despite Irma's limited impact in the region:
A great need for patience and understanding is one of the several points taken in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which largely spared the Grand Strand but did damage in other parts of South Carolina and, of course, devastated Florida. When a bullet dodges us, it's human nature to go on with our lives. At the same time, our better angels keep us aware of others who are struggling to cope with a great disaster.
Last week, on the day Irma brushed our area, Horry County Schools announced Tuesday would be a school day. Social media critics jumped right in criticizing the decision and the officials who made it. "Look at the weather," blah, blah blah.
That's not to demean parents who may have had real concerns for the safety of their children; however, to read some of the critics, one might conclude HCS folks decided to open the schools in an information vacuum.
In fact, reopening the public schools, in Horry or Georgetown counties or elsewhere, is a huge decision for school administrators. In response to the critics, HCS posted that officials had checked weather forecasts and had people on the roads, and so forth, telling people, in effect, to settle down and remember that the safety of children is the priority.
Tuesday was a picture-perfect day, affirming the HCS decision and making the social medical critics look a bit silly. Look, we understand that social media has its place, largely as social communications. It is hardly the ultimate source of public information and has contributed to increased societal lack of trust in institutions such as government and the news media.
Social networks provide a channel for criticizing the news media, and that's fine and dandy, although we have some concerns when newspapers, along with television networks and stations, are accused of fear-mongering. Granted, watching The Weather Channel for hours at a stretch gives viewers the idea that absolutely nothing else is going on other than the weather - just as any major news network will not inform much beyond the big news of the cycle.
On the claim of fear-mongering by local media, however, we take strong issue. Would the critics have us report less about an approaching hurricane? Critics of too much news coverage should consider that many southeastern and Florida Keys residents drove north days prior to Irma's landfall. The Keys evacuation was a success, at least in part to news coverage of Irma's damage in the Caribbean and Hurricane Harvey in Texas. Yes, people who waited to leave other parts of Florida, after Irma's projected path changed, were stuck in traffic on Interstate 75.
Flexibility is important in individual and family planning for hurricanes. Area residents who had made lodging reservations in the western Carolinas or eastern Tennessee canceled those plans after Irma's projected path pointed toward those areas. Hurricanes change course, and forecasters cannot necessarily act on changes three or four days ahead.
In one Florida community, a police commander mentioned that he may have lost his own home, but had not had time to check on the house because he was busy protecting and helping residents. The television reporter and anchor person, obviously moved by the commander's situation, rightly followed up with mentioning the many first responders who put their communities ahead of their personal situations.
Too much cannot be said of the dedication and hard work of first responders, as well as emergency management people, including those here in Horry and Georgetown counties. Across South Carolina, a total of 885 evacuees were in 25 shelters as of noon on Sept. 11. The Department of Transportation had 2,081 maintenance workers clearing roads, and as many as 8,000 utility linemen were working to restore power.
So our area should be thankful for our emergency management folks and first responders, as well as Irma's path being well inland of the Grand Strand. We were fortunate with Irma; other places were not. Let us all provide as much help as possible for those areas. And for the next hurricane that comes our way, remember the virtues of patience and understanding.
Irma's Impact in S.C.
Hurricane Irma missed the Grand Strand and much of South Carolina, but the massive storm nevertheless had an impact. Here are some numbers as of noon Sept. 11, from the state Emergency Management Department:
2,081 SCDOT maintenance personnel on duty clearing roads
164 road closures in 10 counties
847 National, State Guardsmen on duty
369 State officers on from units including Law Enforcement Division; Department of Natural Resources; Probation, Parole & Pardon Services
100 Extra state troopers on roads assisting local law enforcement
The Times & Democrat of Orangeburg on vaccinations:
Hurricanes are a seasonal threat. Disease is a constant.
When taking yourself and your family for flu shots, ask about other recommended vaccines -- the best defense against serious diseases.
Dr. Linda Bell, director of the Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention and Control and state epidemiologist at the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, points out that vaccinations, particularly against diseases such as polio and diphtheria, are great success stories in public health during the 20th century.
But that success does not mean the diseases that vaccines help prevent are no longer a threat.
"Although we have seen significant reductions in - even the elimination of - certain diseases, there were nearly 7,800 reports of vaccine-preventable diseases in South Carolina in 2016," Bell writes.
Not surprisingly, of 238 disease outbreak investigations by DHEC in 2016, 29 percent were related to influenza.
Many of the flu cases occurred in schools and nursing homes, which serve people who often have complications from the flu. The age groups with the highest rates of hospitalizations for flu included children ages 4 and younger and individuals older than 65. Ninety-four deaths from the flu have been reported in South Carolina during the 2016-17 flu season.
DHEC also continues to see cases of whooping cough, bacterial meningitis, hepatitis A and B and other vaccine-preventable diseases, and these will increase unless more people are vaccinated.
Unfortunately, according to Bell, the number of people receiving vaccines in South Carolina and the United States has declined in recent years.
Though vaccines protect entire populations from multiple diseases, questions remain.
Bell offers answers:
. Are vaccines effective? While no vaccine offers 100 percent protection, they are extremely effective.
How well a vaccine prevents illness varies based on the type of vaccine and the individual's health status. For example, the flu vaccine does not protect the elderly as well as it protects young people. However, studies suggest that elderly people vaccinated against the flu have less severe disease, are less likely to be hospitalized and are less likely to die from the flu.
While there can be adverse effects from vaccines, severe adverse events are rare and occur far less often than complications from vaccine-preventable diseases. Although questions have been raised about whether there is a relationship between autism and vaccines, research does not show any such link.
. Do vaccines have risks? Vaccines - like all medications - have potential risks that must be weighed against the benefits. The risks are quite low and are comparable to those associated with prescription and over-the-counter medication. The benefits are significant in protecting the public health and in cost-savings. Ask your health care provider about what vaccines are best for you as well as potential risks based on your health factors.
. What impact does a decline in vaccinations have?
In July the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics published a study showing that a 5 percent decrease in the number of children ages 2 to 11 vaccinated against the measles in the United States could triple the number of measles cases in that group and significantly increase the cost of controlling disease outbreaks. Of great concern is that the article reveals that several regions in the country are just above the level of vaccine coverage needed to prevent measles outbreaks. If vaccination levels drop further, there could be a sharp rise in measles cases, one of the most highly contagious diseases known.
"We continue to see preventable illness, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths in South Carolina from influenza, whooping cough, meningitis, hepatitis B and other vaccine-preventable diseases. Every year U.S. travelers are infected after being exposed to diseases while abroad. Infected people can begin spreading a disease before they show symptoms. Numerous outbreaks have occurred in communities with low vaccination rates," Bell says.
The message should be loud and clear: As you can be protected against dangerous diseases such as flu, measles and pneumonia, it makes no sense not to be vaccinated. Immunization isn't just for kids.
Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.