Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A Time to Remember That We'd Like to Forget

It's 10:11 as I write this blog, the first I've done in a long time. (I have been derelict in my duties as a blogger.) Anyway, this is an anniversary that should be recognized, even though it's not one to celebrate. Twenty-one years ago tonight, at an hour very close to this, Hurricane Hugo, a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds, hit our area. Since I'd experienced many hurricanes in the past, I didn't pay too much attention to the hoopla directed at this one. Most hurricanes in my lifetime had been nothing worse than a big storm - usually heavy rains and some wind that knocked down limbs. Maybe a power outage for a day. My mother came over to my house and we filled the bathtub with water to flush toilets for the next several days. We filled some pots and jugs with drinking water - enough for a few days. My husband was in the U.S. Navy and all ships homeported in Charleston were put out to sea to evade the storm - just in case it was a big one. So he was gone, and she had come to stay with me, since she lived downtown in an apartment building that would be inconvenient in the event of a power outage. The day before the storm hit Charleston, I went to K-mart - to buy a bedspread for my daughter. People were lined up buying sterno and batteries, and I giggled at them for their preoccupation and exaggeration of what I knew was overzealous precaution. I bought my bedspread and came home and turned on the television. The mayor was telling people that this storm was quite serious. It had wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico and was heading our way - a bulls-eye was painted on Charleston, he said. Maybe I should've bought some batteries. Maybe staying in my ranch house, surrounded by many large pine trees was not such a good idea. Maybe my two babies (age 4 and 1) were being put in harm's way. My mother and I decided we'd head for the country - Walterboro - where my aunt had a farm, about 50 miles from the coast. I threw diapers, bottles, formula, and photo albums in the car and within the hour, we were on the road. The deserted road. Everyone who was leaving Charleston had already gone. The road was ours alone. The rain began to pick up and there was some wind. But the storm was predicted to make landfall in about 8 hours so I felt we still had time. We did, but if we'd waited much longer, it would've been foolish to drive. We arrived at the farm safely. Throughout the night, I could hear the wind whipping through the wide-open spaces - I told my mother I thought I heard the train-sounds that accompany tornadoes. We lost power about 10 p.m. and went to bed. The next morning, the evidence all around the farm validated my assessment of the presence of tornadoes. The farm was littered with debris and heavy limbs. We turned on a battery-operated radio and got pretty dismal stories of the conditions in Charleston. But most of the roads had been cleared and I wanted to see if my house was still there. We hit the road about noon and crept back toward Charleston. The roads may have been cleared but only somewhat. What had been a 4 lane highway (Hwy 17) was narrowed to a one lane road where oncoming cars took turns with us weaving our way around trees stretched over the road. The normally 45 minute trip took twice as long. And there were of course no traffic lights. A very intimidating scenario. Upon arriving home, I found my house intact, although others nearby were sliced in two by fallen pine trees - just like the ones that used to stand in my yard. My trees were down but miraculously had missed the house! Why was mine spared? Who knows. Now the clean up would begin - and the stress that comes with a town filled with people who had just been through an event that would haunt them for decades.

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