All along the Southern coast this summer the old-timers are waiting, as they did last summer and the one before that, for a perfectly natural and totally unavoidable event: the next killer hurricane, a confusion of air pressures and winds and tides and chance intersections of latitude and longitude that can instantly rearrange the real estate values of a whole stretch of coastline. The next big hurricane is overdue, they are saying, as they have been saying for several years now.
The old-timers, and especially those who have lived through one or more of the giant storms of the '50's or earlier - hurricanes like Connie and Diane and Ione, who came ashore in North Carolina during a five-week period in 1955, and Donna, who struck in 1960 - do not relish the destruction they know will occur, but they do speak of it with a certain touch of awe in their voices - almost an admiration for this thing that comes from purest nature. To oppose it would be as foolish as a sailor's challenging a sudden gust of wind; it goes with the territory when the territory is the coastline.
These people, the ones who have chosen to live by and on the sea, know the Southern coast somehow wouldn't be worth as much if it were tame. It is almost as if they accept, perhaps endorse, the notion that the wildness that is bound to come, this season or maybe the next or surely by the one after that, may bring great tragedy into the lives of people, but that it is actually good for the coast; that it scours and cleanses it of the structures that human beings, in our supreme egoism, have presumed to erect by the edges of a great ocean.
And interestingly enough, there seems to be a growing body of thought among some who are concerned with the future of the Southern coast (they are more likely to classify themselves as lovers of the shore) that one solution for many of the region's problems may be a really disastrous hurricane.
It is a grisly thought, for such a storm almost certainly will destroy and maim human life and millions upon millions in property. But, say these people, the grisliness and destruction are inevitable. The big storm is out there somewhere, lurking almost as a human would, keeping its path and its toll close secrets until the last moment, a moment when it may be too late for anyone to do anything but run away as fast as they are able.
The people who share these feelings are an odd assortment that I've run across in several years of beach-walking and coast-loving. They include fishers, that strange breed that exploits the environment but treats it, Indian-like, with almost religious reverence; those who call themselves environmentalists, both of the knee-jerk radical and the iron-collar conservative varieties, and everything in between; some politicians and bureaucrats at the federal, state, and sometimes local levels; wealthy people who have inherited coastal and island property and some of whom have done a better job than government of protecting it from damage; scientists and others employed by the universities and government agencies to figure out and explain the complex interdependencies of the natural world; and, a hardy band of newcomers - more often than not people who have lived in parts of the country where the air is foul and the water poisonous and the beach nonexistent, and who have come in retirement to the Southern coast with a strong will to see that it doesn't happen here.
Many of these people not only love the coast but also fear mightily for its future. They see the coast south of, say, Ocean City, Md., as still retaining much of the spectacular beauty of its primitive barrier islands, its amazingly uncrowded and sometimes deserted sandy beaches, its rich estuaries, the shallow and wide sounds, the thickly knotted mangroves of the southernmost latitudes, the saline river mouths with their protected breeding places for millions of seafood dinners.
They see, also, a coastline increasingly damaged by unplanned and unregulated development: by oil tank farms and pulp mills and chemical plants that should be someplace else; by high-rise condominiums built on sand; by low-rise condo islands designed to provide the illusion that they are "ecological," with rental guards stationed in their gatehouses to make sure the public cannot get in; by ridges connecting everything with everything else - and by the resulting carpet of asphalt, miniature golf courses and fast-food joints stacked by the linear mile, running like train tracks a few yards from the breaking surf, behind the place where the dunes once rose.
Much of this development can be, and frequently is, summed up into a few words, place names that evoke images of shorelines that are no longer attractive or that have become, in the eyes of many, actually disgusting: New York's Long Island; almost all of New Jersey; Ocean City; and, worst of all, Florida's "Gold Coast," a thousand dominoes of high-rise junk that end in what some of us perceive as that ultimate cathedral of tackiness at Miami Beach.
And what is the idea that is now emerging in the meetings, writings, speeches, conversations, and thick government reports of those who study and love the shore? It's not very complicated or exotic. It's just the notion that most of our schemes concerning coastal development in the past have not worked very well, and that if we want to preserve the deliciousness of the Southern coast - the last stretch of decent shoreline remaining on this side of the continent - we are going to have to completely rearrange our thinking about who's in charge of the coast, us or nature.
The emerging attitude seems to be based on two realizations: one, that much of what people build along the coast is ugly and environmentally unsound, and two, the fact that much of what is built just doesn't work.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in our dealings with the seemingly endless string of barrier islands. The Southern coast is blessed with scores of these islands, from the small, chunky ones of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, with their picture-postcard harbors, to the long, skinny fingers of sand that form North Carolina's Outer Banks; the dense, jungle-like islands off South Carolina's Lowcountry and the Golden Isles of Georgia, full of constantly multiplying life and even, still, if you know where to look for it, a touch of voodoo; the narrow, highly developed spits along the Florida coast; the Keys, marching off toward the sunsets at Key West and then beyond (for there is always a beyond for sunsets), to Dry Tortugas; the creamy-sand islands of the Gulf states from St. Vincent to Santa Rosa to Dauphin; the fascinating richness of the Mississippi's mouth; the long, graceful crescent of Padre Island, which starts up around Galveston and ends at Mexico. Altogether, counting the ocean, bays, gulf, and estuaries, they give the Southern states, from Virginia to the Rio Grande, 19,227 miles of shoreline. This is more than half of the nation's total. Amazingly, 72 percent of it was not developed in 1971, when the government conducted a National Shoreline Study.
There hasn't been a more recent survey, but surely a new one would show much more of the Southern coast has been altered by human hands. Industry has descended in force on the central and western portions of the Gulf coast, so that passing through Pascagoula or Texas City is not unlike visiting Passaic or Jersey City. And well-intentioned humans, many of them retirees and others who are part of the Sunbelt phenomenon, have clotted the coasts of the Atlantic and of Florida's Gulf, particularly around the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota-Clearwater area.
And that's the problem. For we know now that much of the development on the shore is a destructive act. It invites the destruction of its own self by the normal forces of nature. But even worse, because it interrupts other normal forces of nature, it promotes the destruction of the rest of the shoreline as well.
Scientists, led by University of Massachusetts botanist Paul J. Godfrey, have determined in recent years that the coastal community is marvelously capable of withstanding natural abuse. Hurricanes, extraordinary tides, nor'easters, you name it - an undeveloped barrier island has a peculiar set of topographical features that enables it to absorb such energy and then to recover with amazing swiftness. Storm-driven waves run up the beach, expend much of their power against the dunes, cut gashes into the dune line, wash across the gently sloping backsides of the barriers, and sometimes carve whole new channels through them. In the process, the islands absorb much of the punishment that otherwise might have been visited on the mainland. And within a few months the marks left by a storm will invariably be healed.
Furthermore, the barrier islands are always in motion. Typically in the Southern setting, the angular action of the waves, called littoral drift, removes sand from an island's northern end and adds it to the southern extremity. And, to complicate matters further for those who like to think of real estate as second only to diamonds in foreverness, the islands are also moving toward the mainland. It may be of little solace to know that the mainland shore is also retreating, and that the whole process is being caused by a sea level that is rising about one foot per century.
None of this presents a problem for human beings - indeed the islands' ability to absorb shocks and their inclination to create rich bays and sounds are among our finest treasures - until human beings start to fool with the ecological balance of the shore.
The trouble starts when we put things of value on the coast. The simple wooden cottage which once was a trademark of the Southern coast has given way to architecturally profound, and concomitantly expensive, second homes of pseudo-weathered wood and plexiglass roof bubbles. Condos abound on the coastline. High-rise chain motels march down the beaches. And, of course, there must be highways to bring all the extra people back and forth. And bridges, which have the facility for turning islands into mere extensions of the mainland.
All these new and highpriced investments must be protected. So, when we see that the beach is narrower after a winter storm (a perfectly natural development, and one we'd never notice if we hadn't put permanent structures all along that beach) we panic and start trying to "remedy" the situation. What was natural sand migration now becomes "erosion." Often with the gracious assistance of the Corps of Engineers, which literally likes to leave no stone unturned, we spend millions of the taxpayers' dollars building groins and jetties out from the beach to halt the littoral drift. We plant sea walls to keep the surf away from a few front porches. And, in our supreme act of foolishness, we begin "nourishment" of the beach.
"Nourishment" is a bureaucratic term for spending vast sums of money by sucking sand through a pipe from one place (often the sea bottom) and depositing it in another (usually the shoreline that has "eroded"). It is an excellent way to distribute the contents of the bottomless federal porkbarrel, and it is probably less permanently harmful than many of the other weapons in the Corps' arsenal. Beyond that, say its critics, it is an asinine attempt to defeat nature, because in most cases it doesn't work. The most asinine such attempt in the history of the nation, so far, is the current project to pump 14 million cubic yards of sand from the bottom of the Atlantic onto what is left of the beach in front of the schlockier portion of Miami Beach. This, the Corps has advised us, will cost $55 million.
Other results of development are more directly harmful. Manipulation of the normal effects of littoral drift may temporarily slow the migration of sand down the shore, but it also may steal sand from the next island down the line, threatening that island's very existence and posing fascinating legal questions. Sea walls and artificial dunes will concentrate a storm's energy on one place, rather than letting it expend itself running up the beach and across the island, and erosion may be actually hastened.
Channels must be cut to accommodate all the new boat traffic, and the resulting spoils that are dredged from the bottom must be deposited somewhere. Increased housing means increased demands for fresh water, which almost always exists beneath the coastal lands but which also almost always exists in limited quantity. And there has to be a place for all the new sewage.
Wildlife - flying, walking, swimming, crawling, and creeping - is endangered whenever permanent development takes place along the coast. A sadly typical example is the loggerhead turtle, who comes ashore on summer nights to lay her eggs in the beach sand. The loggerhead insists on a clean, vacant beach on which to go through the exhausting, hour-and-a-half-long experience. If conditions are not right she will turn and swim back into the ocean and the eggs will be lost.
Even if conditions are perfect, the life expectancy of embryo loggerheads is terribly low; raccoons and other animals dig up eggs and eat their fill, smashing the rest. It is miraculous that the loggerhead has been able to survive, but it has. Now, though, beachfront development is mounting another challenge: Electric lights back behind the dunes confuse the hatchlings, who are drawn to the light instead of the sea, and they soon become lost in the sand or flattened on the highways.
So what, a cynic might say (and many have said it); coastal development doesn't work too well for loggerhead turtles, but humans are more important than reptiles. Some might consider that last point debatable, but either way, we are accumulating abundant proof of a very important theorem: that the continued over-development of the Southern coastline won't work for any of us creatures.
It won't work from the standpoint of aesthetics; a visit to the Northern coast will confirm that. And already there are too many examples at hand of what has been called the "New Jerseyization" of the Southern seashore. The second most visually depressing of them, after Miami Beach, is probalby the long stretch of motels, water slides, waffle houses and miniature golf courses that runs parallel to the surf at Myrtle Beach, S.C. Virginia Beach, Va., is a close third on my list.
It won't work, either, from the standpoint of natural events: the hurricanes, nor'easters, and plain old mean storms that are as much a part of the coastal environment as full moons rising out of the ocean. The old-timers know about storms, and the weather experts know about them too. Their computer terminals at the National Climate Center in Asheville, N.C., can print lists of natural hazards going back hundreds of years, and the southern Atlantic coast has its terrible share. Scientists R. H. Simpson and M. B. Lawrence have used past experience to calculate the odds that hurricane winds will strike sections of the East Coast in any given year, including this one. Their research, done for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sorts the coastline into 50-mile segments and plots the percentages for each of them. The most vulnerable areas are the Outer Banks, the lower Texas coast, Louisiana's frequently battered shoreline, the Florida panhandle, and - leading the pack - the area around Miami.
One difficulty, recognized by both the old-timers and the scientists, stems from the fact that there haven't been many heavy storms in recent years along the Atlantic and eastern Gulf coasts. It's been 19 years, for instance, since Hurricane Donna churned up the North Carolina coast like the winds of hell. Donna was the last in a 20-year series of killer storms that came out of the Caribbean Sea and turned up the East Coast. Many of the more recent storms have turned west at Florida and made their terrifying landfalls in the western Gulf states.
Anytime now, say the weather experts at Asheville and elsewhere, the pattern may be expected to change again. All of which is in perfect keeping with the way nature operates, except for the fact that the Atlantic and eastern Gulf states have undergone tremendous development in recent years. There is much more to lose now. A whole generation of property owners has built or bought or installed condominiums, and - increasingly - mobile homes along the water. The residents of some places, such as Miami, doubtless will always be mindful of the hurricane potential, but elsewhere it is unlikely that many of the newcomers have experienced a severe storm, and it must be assumed that many have no idea how destructive hurricanes can be. I went through two of them in the '50s, and I have seen and felt just how powerless humans are in the presence of a coastal storm. And two summers ago I saw cottages that had recently been built on Bogue Banks, N.C., in precisely the place where storm-driven seas had sent violently moving channels straight through the island during one of those '50's catastrophes.
There is another problem: evacuation. Because of the barrier-island topography of much of the Southern coast, most communities there are tied to the mainland by bridges. Estimates of how long it would take to evacuate a community over one two-lane bridge, on short notice, are alarming. Many of them run to 10 or more hours, and that's assuming that everything goes well and that the bridge approaches are not covered with water. "And that's the real key," said James W. MacFarland, a government specialist in barrier islands and estuaries, in an interview not long ago. "Once that bridge approach has been flooded by a couple feet of water and the first car stalls, nobody else will be able to get off."
McFarland is one of many observers who sees an inevitable loss of human life when the Florida Keys, currently in the midst of a population boom, receive their next great hurricane. The "bridge" connecting the keys to the mainland, actually a combination of highways, causeways and overwater bridges, is more than a hundred miles long.
A. C. Fischer, the deputy director of civil defense for Dade County, Fla., and corrdinator for civil defense matters in the state's southernmost counties, says a major problem will be evacuating all the Key's recently arrived residents who live in mobile homes, which are especially vulnerable to storms. Another is figuring when to start an evacuation. "If we start early," said Fischer in a recent interview, "and the hurricane turns the other way, we'll be accused of crying "Wolf" and next time people won't believe us." Even with four to six hours' notice, he said, "you're still not going to get all the people off the Keys." And any evacuation would be a one-lane procession, since one has to be kept open for emergency vehicles going toward the south.
Those who are concerned about evacuating the keys became even more so this spring when a truck and automobile collided on the Seven Mile Bridge, which connects the Lower Keys, including Key West, with the rest of the United States. A fire resulted, and both lanes were blocked. No one was killed, but all traffic was halted for 12 and a half hours.
An obvious conclusion that may be drawn is that people should think twice before they build something on the Southern seacoast that is of great value and before they take chances there with their own lives. Yet they rarely are warned about the potential for disaster, and, in fact, the federal government itself has an impressive record of promoting such development. The draft report of an Interior Department work group, which has been studying barrier islands, notes that at least 20 federal agencies are "involved in more than 30 federal programs that influence the degree and extent of barrier island development." Most of those programs work for development rather than against it. As might be expected, the report concludes that "Insufficient coordination among agencies and their programs appears to be a major problem."
In almost every area of federal involvement with the coastline, the concerned agency is looking out for its own piece of turf rather than for the good of the coastal environment. The Department of Transportation likes to see bridges and highways built; the Coast Guard bases its decisions on bridge permits on questions of navigation, not environmental protection.
The Environmental Protection Agency encourages the growth of barrier islands and other fragile coastal areas through distributing grants for sewage treatment facilities. Nuclear power plants have been built, with government knowledge and assistance, on or near the shoreline (and most Southern governments remain more than eager to help find sites for oil and chemical storage plants and refineries along the coast). The development of parks and national seashores has had a profound effect on the Southern coast - an effect that, as in the case of Cape Hatteras National Seashore in North Carolina where the presence of the park has encouraged commercial overdevelopment, has often not been good. More recently, though, the National Park Service has taken the lead among governmental agencies in recognizing the futility and harmfulness of coastal overdevelopment.
And then there's our old friend, the Corps of Engineers.
The Corps has been making good-guy noises lately. For more than a decade, says a spokesman, the agency has been figuring the needs of the environment into all of its plans, projects and policies. Environmentalists were amazed in 1976 when the Corps denied a permit to develop two large tracts of Gulf Coast wetland. So was Frank E. Mackle Jr., president of the powerful Deltona Corporation, which had proposed the development. He pronounced himself "shocked and outraged" at the decision, which was unprecedented for a project of that size.
It's much more difficult now to get the Corps' permission to start projects that border on navigable waters. But the agency remains on every environmentalist's hit-list, and for good reason: While it may be harder for an individual landowner to dig a finger canal or put in a small pier, the Engineers continue to push the same old expensive and - many feel - environmentally damaging projects of "shoreline stabilization" and "beach nourishment." These projects are the meat and potatoes of the Corps' very existence, the ones (to turn the metaphor into a multi-billion-dollar stew) that keep the pork barrel perpetually full. During the last three fiscal years, according to the Interior Department study, the Corps of Engineers spent almost $33.5 million for "shoreline stabilization" on barrier islands alone.
The National Flood Insurance Program, which is run by Housing and Urban Development, provides insurance for the owners of structures in flood-prone areas and therefore encourages and rewards permanent development in places where commercial insurors, not subsidized by tax monies, would not dare to tread, or even dog-paddle. The Interior Department document notes that one of the program's stated goals is to encourage state and local government to do better jobs of controlling development in places subject to flooding, but it adds that the goal isn't being met.
Eventually, the program is expected to result in the adoption by local governments of proper restraints on land use in places where it is foolhardy to build, but for the moment it seems to be doing almost the opposite. "The main issue," says the barrier island study, "is not whether the flood insurance program increases or does not increase the pressures for development. More important is the fact that federal tax dollars support the process of insuring and redeveloping structures in hazardous and ecologically fragile areas."
When its actions are totalled up, the federal government looms as one of the chief agents of shoreline destruction, so much so that President Carter was moved to remark, in his 1977 message on the environment, that many of the barrier islands were "unstable and not suited for development, yet in the past the federal government has subsidized and insured new construction on them. Eventually, we can expect heavy economic losses from this shortsighted policy."
The president's message was one in a small but significant series of developing hopeful signs for the Southern seacoast. Later on in his environmental text, Carter announced that he was asking Interior "to develop an effective plan for protecting the islands." The department's draft report is its chief response to that request so far. There are other forces at work to positively influence the future of the coast, as well.
One of them is Public Law 92-583, the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, which was designed to stimulate the states' awareness of coastal resources and problems and to encourage systematic planning for the future. Thirty-four states and territories are covered by the act, which is administered by the Commerce Department, and which calls for the development of comprehensive state plans, followed by federal grants to implement programs.
Some states have written acceptable plans since receiving their first grants five years ago, although the Southern states are not high among them. An official at the Office of Coastal Zone Management said recently that Virginia (a place which, some environmentalists, along with government officials in off-the-record moments, say traditionally has been willing to sacrifice the environment for industrial development) is in danger of being kicked out of the program, that Georgia is "also in trouble," and that Florida is "iffy."
It seems that the bright and young middle-level officials in state agencies have little trouble appreciating the need for comprehensive coastal planning. It is when matters get to a more political level - at county boards of commissioners, local school boards, and similar institutions - that "planning" starts sounding a lot like "zoning," and "protecting the coastal environment" sounds like chasing off some big, albeit filthy, industry with a supposedly juicy payroll. An advisory committee to the Office of Coastal Zone Management noted wistfully, in a report on public support for coastal programs, that "It has taken longer for every state, not just the slow ones, to get coastal management started than anyone thought it would before it was tried."
The profit motive, a.k.a. the Great American Free Enterprise System, is responsible for much, if not all, of the problem of the Southern shore today. There is some hope that that same appreciation for money will help preserve the coast in the future. Eugene P. Odum, Georgia's pre-eminent ecologist and a scientist of international reputation, has pioneered in research seeking to define the real economic value of tidal marshes.
Everyone knows the marshes are unmatched as nurseries for fish and shellfish, and that they contribute valuable organic matter into adjacent deeper waters. They also are useful as waste treatment plants (up to a point, of course), especially for the tertiary treatment of sewage, which is very expensive when done by artificial means. Odum's work takes into consideration those examples of the "free work of nature," as well as many others, and comes up with conclusions that are startling. In a calculation made in 1973, with monetary figures that would be extremely conservative now, he found that an acre of marsh could be thought of as worth some $82,000.
Almost everyone associated with the future of the Southern seacoast seems to understand that the key to the salvation of the shore, if there is to be one, lies in public education. Until ordinary people - and the slightly more extraordinary ones who get elected to county commissions and zoning boards - start understanding that groins, jetties and bridges aren't necessarily good, the reasoning goes, little real progress can be made. Some states, notably North Carolina, have undertaken impressive programs of public education.
Another form of enlightenment that is badly needed has to do with teaching the simple risks of living on the coast - risks that the old-timers and forecasters know about, but that the general public may not. An excellent help in this direction is the growing bookshelf of coast-living advice that is being produced by some natural scientists, primarily Duke University geologist Orrin H. Pilkey Jr. The books explain coastal (and particularly barrier island) dynamics, the likely effects of weather, what to look for when buying or building a beach house, and other factors to consider when looking for real estate along the coast.
James MacFarland, the island specialist who works for the Office of Coastal Zone Management, seeks this sort of information as crucial. "In the coastal areas," he said, "there should be covenants in the deeds saying that if you purchase property in this area you should know that it's subject to a hurricane on the average of once every 15 years, or whatever, and that the water level will be so high, so whoever buys it will know what the potential risks are. Somebody who's buying land in Florida who is from Michigan or New York probably has heard of hurricanes but hasn't lived through one."
And, says MacFarland, a young man who sometimes wears a necktie with a map of Chesapeake Bay on it, the federal flood insurance program should be changed. "I'm an economist by training," he said, "and I've always thought that if you could bring the development of barrier islands back to the free enterprise system, where people would have to pay all the development costs - insurance, bridges, water, disasters, roads - then things would be a lot different. Using the basic economic system, you wouldn't develop a barrier island very much at all."
MacFarland and many others who concern themselves with the future of the Southern coast believe that, with the proper degree of public education, important alterations can be made in the present trend toward destructive development. Not only that: They see the possibility that with enlightened political leadership, even those places that are already overdeveloped - "ruined," in the phrase of the earnest environmentalist - can be restored to their former states. According to that sort of thinking, there's hope even for New Jersey and Ocean City.
It's really very simple. You just wait until the next hurricane flattens all the overdevelopment, you pray that nobody gets killed, you acknowledge that nature is more powerful than cinderblocks or even the Corps of Engineers, and you promise yourself you'll do better next time.
"This is what Sanibel Island's doing," said MacFarland. Sanibel, which lies off Fort Myers on Florida's rapidly growing eastern Gulf Coast, underwrote a great deal of research in order to determine an ecologically sound development plan for its future. There was, though, a problem with the present, said MacFarland: "There's already development on the island - single-family dwellings, apartments, high-rises - that basically, they said, shouldn't be there. But they acknowledged that they couldn't do anything about it.
"So what they did was they zoned certain areas as nonconforming uses, which means that what's there now, even if it doesn't conform to the plan, can stay there. But when the situation changes - which down there means after the next hurricane goes through and those nonconforming houses are destroyed - the new zoning will take effect. And the new zoning might call for open space."
Sanibel is a privately developed island, so it might be easier for such an imaginative plan to be adopted there. But the makings of a similar design exist all around the Florida shoreline. The state has established an "erosion control line" back from the water (its distance varies according to a number of factors), and has declared that no one can build in front of it without a variance issued by the governor and his cabinet. Furthermore, if an existing structure is destroyed by a storm, its owner cannot rebuild unless the new structure will withstand the sort of storm that comes along only once a century. The plan has several loopholes, and variances are issued (60 to 70 a year, according to one estimate), but at least it's a beginning in a state that once did nothing to stop the ravaging of its shore. "We may be a little bit late," said an official of Florida's Department of Natural Resources not long ago, "but we're making every effort to do it right this time."
To a lover of the Southern seacoast who has seen both the horrors of hurricanes and the depredations of senseless development, the Sanibel Island plan and others like it have a certain appeal. They provide a very nice, almost face-saving way by which we can admit to nature that we were wrong all those years, and that now we're prepared to acknowledge that mere humans have no business trying to tell the winds and tides and waves what to do. CAPTION: Illustration 1, The cover illustration is by John Pack.; Picture 1, no caption, By Frank Johnston; Illustration 2, no caption, American Red Cross; Picture 2, The sea wall above was built by the Army Corps of Engineers at Wrightsville Beach, N.C., after nearly 500 feet of ocean beach eroded down to residents' doorsteps over a 20-year period.; Picture 3, Southern seacoast houses built dangerously close to the ocean, like these at Atlantic Beach, N.C., right, are all threatened with destruction by the next killer hurricane. By Frank Johnston; Map, Hurricane Probability, By Dave Cook; Illustrations 3 through 5, The illustrations above show the three stages of a developing killer storm tide experienced during a severe hurricane. The awesome power of the combination of high water and battering waves created under such conditions depends in part on the shore topography, storm strength and bottom conditions. In the first drawing a normal 2-foot tide with small waves laps at the shore. In the second drawing, about 12 hours before the peak storm surge hits, rolling swells from offshore create eight-foot breaking waves and water begins to move up the beach. In the final drawing, the hurricane itself begins to move ashore and the storm's 15-foot surge combined with a two-foot high tide creates a 17-foot storm tide of millions of cubic feet of water, each cubic foot weighing about 64 pounds. The wall of water smashes inland, pushed by winds up to 130 miles per hour, and obliterates most oceanfront property. By John Pack