At that time I was the Director of Public Relations and Publications at Voorhees College in Denmark, South Carolina . The tiny town of Denmark is 50 miles south of Columbia, 50 miles southeast of Augusta, and 86 miles northwest of Charleston. I remember that day the president of the college, Dr. Leonard Dawson, asked me to stay in my office into the evening just in case he wanted to alert the media of the college’s plans in the event of Hurricane Hugo. I remember the president consulting with faculty and staff about whether to let the students go home or stay put in the dorms. The president , especially concerned about the students from Charleston journeying into a possible direct hit from the hurricane, decided to tell the students to stay put on campus. The decision turned out to be a fortuitous one as the hurricane literally sidestepped Denmark. The strong winds only broke some limbs on the tree-laden campus.
Why did Hugo have to come during the night? My husband held the dim and flickering flashlight up to the front door window, pausing to give it a whack hoping that would make it shine brighter. Al was soon giving us a blow-by-bloe description of what he could make out through the window. “Yeah, that was the pine tree. It clipped the rain gutters, took the screens off the front porch, did a number on the wrought iron handrails, and….”, he stopped mid sentence and squinted his eyes, then suddenly he was wide-eyed, “There’s the roof!”
We had begun renovations on the 150-year-old family home just two days before Hugo hit. The old metal roof had peeled over from back to front like the lid on a can of sardines. The blowing rain was bubbling up under the windows and soon began streaming through the light fixtures on the ceiling. By morning, the rain-soaked ceilings were falling in, one by one. Renovations? We’d have to come up with a Plan B.
I was living in Union at the time, working for local radio WBCU. I went down the day after with First Presbyterian Church, to carry some relief goods to Charleston. I helped in distribution and spent the rest of the day “reporting”, carrying my recorder around the peninsula, talking with officials and mainly residents about their experiences. The park at the battery is full of trees…after Hugo they were all stripped down to nubs by the water wall, as were the rest of the trees in Charleston, and all of those limbs ended up in the streets, along with fish and some boats. I’ve always enjoyed amateur songwriting…I remember the night of the event, penning a tune…a slow, rhythmic piano melody that grows in force…”Lives change, in the pouring rain, they will never be the same.”
I was a fledgling photographer/reporter in grad school, eager to cover a big story. This one came along bigger and faster than I’d imagine. Our group of grad students and a professor signed a waiver, piled into a van and headed straight to Charleston to experience the storm firsthand. We served as stringers working from the safe fortress of the Charleston News and Courier building on King Street. We stayed there all night, preparing for the worst, venturing out during the eye to see the transformed streets, waiting for the roar of the storm to pass. When it did the next morning, we all hit the streets like footsoldiers. In fact, I hitched a ride with the National Guard and was one of the first to see Folly Beach. The flattened houses and the torn buildings were the way I imagined London must have looked during World War II. At the same time, the storm had scrubbed the sky of any clouds and there were no cars or noise, so it was an eerily beautiful day.
(Who was a little boy)
I stayed in Charleston for Hugo. My house flooded and my shed in the back yard went into my neighbors new mustang GT and stuck in the roof of it. It was a sight to see! My dad and I went outside for the eye of the storm. At that time I thought it was very cool.