From my journal: “I’ll never forget the endless loud bizarre howling of the wind that night. Nighttime landfalls are the scariest to me. Although experts, including the weather legend Charlie Hall said, had it been daytime and we saw it first hand, there would have been countless terror-induced heart attacks. I’ll never forget being huddled in the bathtub of the Montague Avenue Days Inn in North Charleston, listening to the radio. And praying. And staying calm for the sake of the children, who thankfully remember it as an adventure which led my daughter into the field of meteorology and the love of storms to this day. And my son to love surfing and respect nature with a huge heart.
Everyone who was here when Hurricane Hugo hit 30 years ago can remember vivid details of the storm and its aftermath. Especially living on Isle of Palms with our two children, Shayna (then 11) and David (then 5). With the added personal responsibility of doing the weather and news at WCIV-TV 4 which was then located on the causeway to Sullivan’s Island, the only link to Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms over an old swing-span 2-lane draw bridge. Many remember the picture of the swing span forced skyward 90 degrees by the storm. There was no way to return at first, but by boat, which was initially limited by authorities because of all the dangers. All but a few evacuated the islands. And it is a good thing. It looked like a war zone at day break. The roads were all covered with water and sand. Snakes were everywhere. The stench of dead animals was sickening. And so sad. I remember thinking, “would our paradise ever recover?” And that was my first view a week later, coming by ferry to find my house standing, with house-high debris including a piano and refrigerators in the front yard. I had to kick open the front door, slipped on the plug mud residue and was amazed that our fish “Soul” had survived on the counter of my otherwise trashed kitchen. I was greeted by our cats. I remember opening a can of tuna for them and giving them fresh water from bottles in the freezer that had floated across the house.
I recall having the distinction of putting Hurricane Hugo on the five-day forecast during the weekend weather before the storm for Thursday/Friday. Here’s the official word from the National Weather Service:
“Thirty years ago around midnight on September 22, Hurricane Hugo made landfall just north of Charleston, South Carolina at Sullivan's Island as a Category 4 storm with estimated maximum winds of 135-140 mph and a minimum central pressure of 934 millibars (27.58 inches of Hg).”
Everything north of landfall, from Isle of Palms through McClellanville bore the biggest brunt of storm surge, winds, rain and microbursts or tornadoes. The biggest insurance question was “wind or water?” Meaning, which caused the damage to your home or business? And, if it was flood/storm surge and you didn’t have federal flood insurance you were out of luck. Except for whatever help you could qualify for, from FEMA. The storm surge at McClellanville was no less than 17 feet officially, where the high school was used as a shelter. Terrified residents recall standing on cafeteria tables in the dark as the murky waters rose — and having to push children through the ceiling tiles to prevent them from drowning. It is one of the reasons no hurricane shelters are permitted east of the Cooper any longer. Charleston recorded 10 feet of storm surge. My profession also included being a Licensed Counselor so I received special PTSD training (new related to storms back then) and worked with countless others to help heal the Lowcountry while trying to heal ourselves.
I am so proud of how the community came together. And Hugo was billed as the first “TV Hurricane” where we can see videos in addition to amazing photography from the Post and Courier. There were many hardships. We personally did not get power back at our house on Isle of Palms for six weeks. The entire downstairs of our two story house had to be gutted and rebuilt. We lived upstairs while the construction was completed. We carried groceries and children up an extension ladder to an upstairs bathroom window to enter the house. It’s funny how time and faith heals. And how a sense of humor can get a family through what could seem like the worst conditions. I recall fondly appreciating hot meals served at the Isle of Palms Recreation Center by the Salvation Army. There was no fussiness then, just gratitude. And I’m so proud of how weathering the storm helped build solid character in our children. I have a tattered blue shirt which reads, “I survived Hurricane Hugo.“ Actually, many of us actually “thrived” in spite of and even because of Hugo. It is true, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. And I hope wiser so we continue to prepare for, respond to and recover from these inevitable events in our lives.