Memories of Hugo, Part One

(Note: I initially titled this post Memories of Hell, Part One, but I’m revising my personal experiences downwards in the light of the current events that I’m seeing on television.)

Seeing all of the news coverage of Katrina is very hard for me to look at, mostly because I feel so bad for those who have lost their lives or lost everything they owned, but partly because I lived through Hurricane Hugo, as I mentioned during my last post. Hugo has come back so dramatically for me after the last few days that I feel like I should talk about it here, maybe during several posts.

I was a sophomore in high school the year Hugo came. I was taking classes like French II and Geometry and English. I was riding the bus to school for the second year. (I hadn’t needed to ride it during grade school and middle school, since I had grandparents who would take me to that school who didn’t want to drive downtown to the high school. Or was it that I didn’t want to be seen getting in or out of a grandparent’s car in the parking lot?) Anyway, one day at supper I saw a hurricane on the local news, way out in the ocean, called Hugo. I looked at it’s previous track, turned to my mother and said, “Mom, that hurricane is coming here.”

She said, “No, Mandy, don’t say that, I don’t think it will.”

I said, “Mom, look at the past track. It’s heading straight for Fort Sumter.” I could tell that I was freaking my Mom out by the way she said, “Oh, don’t say that! It won’t come here!” And that was the end of the conversation.

A day or two went by, and Hugo hit Puerto Rico. I saw footage on the nightly news of the damage there, which was quite bad. (It hit there as a Category 4.) Again, I said to my Mom, “That storm is coming here.”

A few days later, it was clear to all that Hugo was coming close enough to our direction that we needed to gear up to do the routine hurricane preparation, the stuff that we did every few years: go to the store and buy some canned food, stock up on batteries, make sure we had something to read or do for the few hours the lights would be out. Kids were looking forward to having a day or two off from school, that kind of thing. Rednecks and college kids were stocking up on their beer for the requisite hurricane party. Wednesday came, and Mom and I went to the Harris Teeter a couple of blocks from our house and bought our supplies.

The next day, Thursday, September 21st, was the day that the storm was to make landfill. No one in my family considered leaving. Everyone told me “Nothing can be worse than Gracie, we’re staying here.” Hugo went into the night before as a Category 2 hurricane. Then during the day, the next advisory stated that Hugo had grown to a Category 3, which was sobering, but then when the next advisory after that declared it to be a Category 4, instantly, immediately, all right thinking people in town knew we were well and truly screwed.

All the local TV channels began to cover a news conference. Every mayor of the towns in this area were there, telling people to leave town. I will go to my grave with the sound of Linda Lombard’s voice, who was a city or county councilwoman, I forget which, booming into the microphone “Leave now! If you do not leave now, you will not be allowed to leave!”

I took those words to heart, as the storm grew. I had packed up clothes and my collection of Doctor Who books, put them in the living room, and began badgering my mother to leave. “We can’t leave,” she said, “What would we do with Lucky? Hotels and the shelters won’t take pets.” (Lucky was our slightly demented but very sweet apricot poodle. He was a bit on the portly and naughtly side, even then.) I begged, I pleaded, I wheedled. I probably had a tantrum. No luck. I bagged my stereo system, made sure I had batteries for everything, and watched TV.

That night, at 8 PM I think, 48 Hours came on TV. Guess what it was about? You got it–us. Here were the 48 hours of waiting for a hurricane.

I also will never forget watching that show. As the winds began to pick up outside and as the rain began to fall, I watched a reporter get into a wind tunnel to demonstrate what it was like to be out in wind at certain speeds. The reporter got to about maybe 100 mph winds before he couldn’t talk, couldn’t stand, couldn’t report, and bailed out of the tunnel to point out to us that what coastal South Carolina would experience would be about 35 mph more than that–and that would just be sustained wind speed. My Mom, I noticed, seemed rather ill after watching that.

She didn’t have to worry about the TV scaring her for long. We lost power at 10:18 P.M.

to be continued…

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