Of course I remember hurricane Hugo, I just don’t always remember if the “anniversary” is Sept. 21st or 22nd . Most of the winds that I heard were after midnight making the 22nd work for me, however Hugo is always remembered by the local news on Sept. 21st as THE day. With that in mind, I will reflect on Sept. 21, 1989 – 16 years ago.
At that time, I was living about 80 miles inland. I woke up and phoned my family that still lived on a barrier island near Charleston. As I hoped, my mom had finally convinced my dad to leave and they were almost packed to stay with relatives about 25 miles inland (one of our usual evacuation plans.) We commented about how the storm seemed to be getting here quicker than expected yesterday.
I had a doctor’s appt. and planned to go to work later in the day. I began to hear weather and news that even our inland area should prepare for the storm. There was even talk that the schools HERE would be getting out in a few hours. With that thought, I quickly finished my appointment and hurried to the school where I taught 4th graders – knowing that they would be excited and nervous about getting out of school early.
In the classroom, we talked about hurricanes and I shared a little of my childhood on a barrier island. I tried to calm them by telling them that the conditions here inland would be much less than a full hurricane. I explained about securing things in the yard, etc. and that we’d have rain and wind. And that tomorrow we’d be raking our yards. (I really believed that. I didn’t mean to lie to my students.)
After the students were all gone, I offered to take another teacher to her husband's workplace because her car was in the shop. We were in a rural area but have to drive through “town” to take her there. I first felt a little panicky when I saw the steady stream (or slow stream) of cars that were passing through evacuating the coast. I had never SEEN the evacuation lines before.
I knew the routine, and we secured our yard and settled for the evening (in our “safe” place) with our flashlights and water in the bathtub. I was NOT prepared for the sounds we’d hear that night. The winds were catergory 2 when it came through. Since it was the middle of the night, we could not see, only hear the pine trees snapping and limbs hitting the house. The real shock was that first morning look outside and seeing that the world as we knew it had changed.
Personally, I was quite lucky and we had no structural damage – although the neighbors did. It looked like some would not even be able to move back into their house. I was anxious to hear some news of my family. I couldn’t imagine what it must be like closer to the coast. I wanted to know where/when about the eye. That was before cell phones – and of course the phone lines were down. During the night, I had listened to a battery radio, but only heard news reports from Chicago and such “faraway” places. I’d heard an AP report that sounded like Charleston had been completely blown away. I don’t remember how I heard from my family, but I think it was that evening. Since they would not be allowed access to their home on the barrier island they had decided to relocate to relatives even further inland to have electricity, etc.
Those of you that have been through hurricanes know that the aftermath is what you really remember – the stacks of debris beside the road for months, the lack of water and electricity, the sound of chain saws, standing in lines to get ice – and the kinship that develops with your neighbors as you share your food over someone’s grill. AND the wonderful workers that come from other towns to repair the electricity and other relief workers. …..even into these areas inland that seemed forgotten at first.
Our water was back on in a few days, so friends came to take cold showers at our house. The electricity was back in a week I think. We spent much time helping my family with the cleanup and repair at the home on the coast. My school started back after 10 days, but we did not have electricity or safe water. It was hot, the windows had to be opened, a small snake was found in my class in the middle of one day. We had to tape up the water fountains so the kids wouldn’t take a drink. There was an Army water truck on our playground and students took turns going to get a jug filled with water and we drank out of paper cups. Lunch was brought in each day and eaten on styrofoam trays. We were in a rural area and the electricity came back in about 3 weeks. Some of my students were not living in their own houses – and they’d come to school without their books or whatever would have been normal.
I know that this does not compare to the current level of destruction and loss of life from Katrina. Or the current threat and fear associated with Rita. Those people do not need to read another’s story because they are living their own.
I’ve written this as my own reflection. I don’t know if anyone else will read this long blog. Those of you that have been through a hurricane (or two three, ….) know that the date will always be a “anniversary.” Hugo was a “wake up” call to folks in SC. Folks on the coast and inland are more prepared to face a storm. Some may have become complacent again in the 16 years – but I’m sure they are hearing stories again on this date.