I remember September 21, 1989 and Hurricane Hugo, a category four hurricane when it SLAMMED into the Charleston Harbor. My husband was activated with the SC National Guard. I chose to volunteer at the culinary college where I worked. caring for 60 students in a historical building that once was a tobacco factory. Thru the cracked, olden bricks, I could see lightning flashing. This building had survived earthquakes and hurricanes previously. I was confident we would be fine. I could hear the sounds of the storm, roaring with life like a freight train, or the horrifying roar of an angry tiger. I remember singing and humming to myself, and praying like I could never pray again. I kept myself quiet to the students, but inside my soul, I was horrified. I saw the water rising from the harbor, up to the second floor where we housed the students. No one wanted to move them. I remember saying, I’ll go. The students do not need to see, or hear, the rising waters. I gathered the 60 students, forming a single line up the stairs we rushed to a vacant warehouse. I remember hugging every student as they settled down. I sang “We Shall Over Come,” to a few of them as we lit candles so we could see to walk around.
Later, most of the students were fast asleep. with exception of one young girl. I found her cuddled like a baby inside a sleeping bag. She held a teddy bear. I stopped to speak to her, and to give her a motherly hug. “We’re going to be fine,” I said. “It’s just a storm. Tomorrow morning we’ll awaken to a brand new day. You go to sleep now. Hug your teddy tightly. We will be fine.”
Moments later, she was asleep. One hour later, as the storm intensified, I was the only one awake. I do not remember how long Hugo destroyed this city, but when the breaking of dawn arrived, I saw a slight light. I slipped out of the area for a moment, to find a window. There, in the early morning I saw a light. Sunshine. I remember saying a prayer while looking at East Bay Street in Charleston. Debris was everywhere, but we had a moment of hope as the skyline broke into morning, a beautiful sunshiny morning with gorgeous blue skies.
I, along with 60 frightened students, survived Hugo. Today, as I look outside, I see a bit of sunshine and a lot of overcast clouds. Wind gusts occasionally. I’ve checked with a few neighbors, and much to my surprise, they decided to ride this storm out too.
Many of us lived in Charleston in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd. During that hurricane, we were told to evacuate. “This is a mandatory evacuation,” the Governor said. Phil and I decided to leave. 1999 was a horrible year for me. I lost my father from esophageal cancer in July. I was grieving and lost. When Phil suggested we pack up to leave, I remember saying to him, “I must pack Dad’s rocking chair.”
Confused, Phil shook his head. “Don’t ask,” I said. “I must have a piece of my father with me.”
I remember loading up our dogs, suitcases, and doggie crates. We had just enough room to pack the rocking chair. Since we were leaving at the time it appeared everyone was leaving Mt. Pleasant, Phil suggested taking Highway 41. We left at noon, driving down Highway 17, headed in all of the congestion to Highway 41. Phil was convinced we’d be safer and move quicker IF we took the back roads.
Driving in separate cars, the dogs with me, we drove down Highway 41, thankful we had walkie-talkies to converse since cell phones were jammed. Moving at a snail’s pace, we remained in the traffic on Highway 41 for nine hours. During the afternoon, the winds gusted. I clicked the walkie-talkie. “Do you think we’ll make it out of here before the storm hits?”
Phil keyed his walkie-talkie. “When we see a hotel, we’re stopping.”
“Good,” I said. “I’m hungry and exhausted…and I’ve got to pee so badly I ache.”
Highway 41 was a parking lot. We moved ever so slowly, inches. Highway 41 did not have the development of other roads, and the only place to relieve mother nature would be the woods.
I glanced at the speedometer, adding the numbers in my head. At nine o’clock we traveled only 57 miles. We saw an old hotel. We stopped, got a room and rushed inside with our dogs. The hotel room smelled. The air conditioner did not work, and the bedspread felt damp. I opened the trunk of my car, removing a blanket. “I’m not sleeping on this wet, smelly bedspread,” I said, fluffing the blanket over the bed.
Although I dozed on that night, I was exhausted the next morning. Phil went outside to check the weather. No wind was blowing and the skies were clear.
“We’re packing up,” he said. “We’re going home.”
I glanced upwards to the skies. “Thank you, God.”
Hurricane Floyd moved off shore on that evening, weakening. Our nine-hour excursion to get out of Charleston, SC was a disaster; however, the drive home took us 45 minutes!
Remembering how stressful it was to get out-of-the-way of a hurricane convinced me that when another hurricane threatens Charleston, we will remain safe at home.
I feel confident we will be fine with Hurricane Matthew. Although we are at OPCON 1 now, I am praying Matthew must be tired now. Maybe he’ll give in and turn back into the oceans and disappear. Meanwhile, I am writing. Isn’t it funny how stress appears to help me find the stories I need to share?