Monday, September 21, 2009

Memories of Hugo

It's hard to describe the downpour I woke up to in the pitch darkness of September 21, 1989. I've still never seen rain so hard, and it was only an edge of hurricane Hugo. At this point I was still on Hilton Head, where it never even hit.

But none of us knew that yet. It was looking like it would slam us, and evacuation was underway. We'd prepped the library the day before and closed early.

At 4AM I woke up to blackness and rain like I'd never seen. Pitch dark, the power now out, and torrential rain drumming straight down.

And no wind. Dead-still air and a downpour so heavy that it was truly eerie, like something out of science fiction.

I'd packed what I could in my tiny Tercel and I got outta there after saying a tearful goodbye to my beloved books, my adored stereo. Not that I'm prone to melodrama or anything. I was on the road by 5 AM. Even then, traffic crawled, but it became gridlock later when the evac order became mandatory, and I missed that.

Ever heard of the old Arabic tale about an appointment in Samarra? Because I went straight to what seemed like the most logical retreat. Way inland. Free of charge, because my parents kept an apartment there, so if the island got devastated, I wouldn't be paying hotel rates for days or weeks.

Charlotte, NC.

Quit laughing.

I got there mid-afternoon (Normally, the drive would have taken 5 hours). I did one smart thing -- I filled the gas tank. I hit my favorite newsstand/bookstore, and bought this issue of Elle,

which I still have, and, i think, another magazine. BOY did I come to wish I'd bought more reading material.

(Enjoy the fan service, because it was unintentional and it's the only example this blog will ever have!)

I grocery shopped and noticed people buying up bottled water, batteries, etc. But I figured I'd be out of Charlotte in just a few days anyway, so I bought ... too little.

Let myself in to the apartment, turned on the TV and saw that the storm had increased 2 levels during my drive. From a category 2, to a 4. And had turned a little northwest. And they were warning us to batten down, here in Charlotte?! %#$*!

That was one frightening night. The storm pounded the building. My parents had bought new mattresses for 2 of the beds, and the delivery company had left the old ones on the bedroom floor. I was so afraid that that wind would hurl objects through the apartment windows, that I tried to prop the old mattresses against them. These mattresses had come with the beds in the 1930's and were too limp to prop.

In the morning, despite my full tank of gas, I couldn't leave because power lines were down across the complex's entrance. So I listened to the radio (Working batteries! Way cool) announcing the few gas stations that had power to run their pumps. Sweated in the increasing steamy humidity. Read what I could find. Phoned people. Took some pictures.

In this photo, it's a few hours later and someone has pulled the downed trees aside enough for the lines to raise and allow at least small vehicles to get in and out.

By then, I had to stay and get the place ready for my mom.

My parents lived right where they do now, in the badly hit Grand Strand. They had evacuated inland, to relatives in Conway, and came back to find the living space of their house intact, but the ground floor washed out. Dad stayed in Conway, waiting for the the local motel to reopen and in a couple weeks both parents were in the motel while repairs were done. There was water and phone service in Charlotte, if nothing else and Mom decided to camp out there, with the dog, until there was a better option.

Meanwhile, my friends back on the island were cheerfully informing me that they had no damage. They had power, water, air conditioning .... Tee Vee!

I grocery shopped to stock the place for her. We waited in long lines to get into barely lit stores, They'd count us off in groups of 20(? I think) and let us in, then let in another 20 when enough previous shoppers had come out. They took cash and, if I recall, credit cards, by using those old knuckle-scraper machines and hoping that the card was good. I hope I remember this correctly but it actually makes sense. You might as well sell what you've got and make what money you can, rather than turn people away for lack of cash and then just leave the stuff sitting for looters or spoilage.

Anyway, I remember dearth, rather than money, being an object. There wasn't much to buy except canned fruit and potato chips but I got what I could.

She arrived and we hung out for a couple of days and then I couldn't stand the boredom and went home.

Looking back, this whole plan makes no sense. We all knew Hilton Head was untouched. And closer to my parents' home in the Inlet by an hour, though storm damage would undoubtedly have necessitated a detour inland, but OK, call it a longer drive ...

Still; factor in the undamaged comforts of power, air conditioning, plentiful food, and ... Tee Vee! AND the fact that once the roads were cleared it really WOULD be a shorter drive for her to get back.

Why didn't Dad and Mom and I just plan for her to come to Hilton Head and hang out there till they could make longer term arrangements?? I have no idea. I can't remember. All I can figure is that we were all too mentally wrecked to be flexible or change plans. Lack of sleep probably had a something to do with it.

I went back to HH and back to work. These photos of Hugo damage at Garden City Beach (right next to Murrells Inlet, but out at the shore rather than tucked inland like we are) were taken a whole year later, when we had another weird weather event, a BIG snow. Snow flurries occur every 5 years or so, but a few inches are rare. On December 24th, 1990 it snowed 11 inches, which is outright bizarre. The tides have eaten away at some of the snow here directly on the beach, but that really is snow you see all over the destruction, unlceared after a year.

I really hate hurricanes.

[Dates corrected.] [Again.]


Ronnie said...

Hate to see Garden City Beach like that. I spent three winters there c.2000 at Waterforde, which was a right turn at THE corner and just opposite a really nice restaurant I always took visitors to. The last year I was there the place next door was adding units closer to the water and would have cut off my down-beach view. It snowed one winter, but just a dusting, enough to write the date in for a photo.

ronnie said...

Fascinating post. Brings to mind Robbie Burns' line about "the best-laid plans of mice and men..."

Mother Nature loves throwing us curves, doesn't she?