Hurricane Hugo

I am probably pushing the limits on the definition of “blog” on this one but I can’t seem to help myself.  Today, September 21st, it is the 21st anniversary since Hurricane Hugo ripped apart Charleston.  The significance of the 21st anniversary on the 21st day of the month is momentous enough to justify this lengthy remembrance, I hope.   I wrote about this life-changing event several days after it happened and just before the birth of my daughter who will be 21 in about a week:

“It is five days after Hurricane Hugo swept through our town of Charleston, SC on Thursday, September 21, 1989, leaving a path of devastation behind.  I have been completely consumed with the stress of the situation and the many life-threatening decisions we’ve made that I have not stopped to think about what I’ve just lived through.  Fortunately, the choices we’ve made have turned out to be good ones.  The best decision we made was to evacuate the area and head inland for Columbia….We packed what we could and anxiously left our home behind with our golden retriever secured with ample food and water in the house.  My conscience was laden with guilt leaving our dog there but there was no choice.  With two small boys, my husband, our belongings, and myself nine months pregnant there was no room for a toy poodle much less a golden retriever.

Our cramped car was one of hundreds headed down the hazy highway that gloomy morning.  My thoughts and feelings as we traveled steadily along were partially of relief and hope that we were driving towards safety.  Yet I also felt scared and anxious in anticipation of what was coming.  The fear of the unknown was strong.  We often drove in silence, feeling very connected as a family.  I concentrated on remaining calm and honest in answering my oldest son’s many questions about the storm.  ’Why are we leaving, Mommy? Is the big storm going to hurt my toys? Will water come in the house? Is Maia (our dog) going to get hurt?’

It seemed like days before we reached the motel in Columbia.  Luckily, we had guaranteed a reservation the night before, after calling numerous motels that had no vacancies.  Our room was waiting for us, something for which I felt great relief.  We didn’t know where else we’d go.  We unloaded our boys and belongings and got as comfortable as we could before going for breakfast.  For the boys, the motel was a big adventure and we tried to relieve our own tension by making the experience as fun as possible.  Still there loomed a shadow of fear and worry in us as we waited, waited, waited….The hurricane was predicted to hit Charleston late Thursday night anywhere from midnight until the early hours of Friday morning.  It was also predicted to pass through Columbia a few hours after that.  I was afraid that even in Columbia we may not be safe…but I was just grateful that we left.  I was overwhelmed with the maternal instinct to protect my babies, born and unborn….

As darkness fell so did the rain.  We tucked our sweet boys into bed and spent the evening following every single weather update.  Exhaustion finally took over and my husband and I drifted to sleep….It was a weird feeling to think that as I drifted to sleep around midnight, Charleston was in the midst of the hurricane and there was nothing anybody could do but hope and pray….Fear loomed heavier than ever because I knew we were next.  With my baby due in a few days I feared she would come in the middle of a hurricane.  I blinked my eyes hard at the thought of my husband delivering our child while our boys watched….I prayed for God’s protection and presence.

I awoke suddenly in the dark hours to the sound of pounding rain and beating gusts of wind that sounded as if someone was beating on our door.  The hurricane was here and the noises from the dark startled me out of sleepiness….Nervously, with pounding heart, I made my way across the shadowed room and peeked out the water-streaked window.  Trees were bending in the wind the way tall grass in a field wavers one way then the other….I didn’t want to see anymore and hurried to the bed….My husband was awake by now but the boys slept soundly on the sofabed near the window.  When the lights went out and the wind sounded more fierce than ever, we quickly moved the boys to our bed….by now they were awake too and as my son rubbed his sleepy eyes he asked ‘Is the big storm here, Mommy?’  ‘Yes, it is honey.’  A few minutes later we were huddled in the bathroom, the boys in the blanket-lined tub with their pillows and stuffed animals.  The candlelight and the battery-powered tv provided a little light and distraction from the storm’s wrath.  My eldest son of four was afraid and stayed very close to me.  His little brother held ‘Little Bear’ with the pink nose and munched on crackers in the cozy bathtub nest….

Eventually, the end sounded like it was near and we returned to the bed.  All of us cuddled together, waiting for the wind to stop and sleep to overcome us.  I was so relieved that we had made it through the hurricane.  My son was still scared and stayed close to me.  I wondered what secrets the darkness now held as I drifted to sleep to the hypnotizing sound of a normal, steady rain.  Several hours later, I awakened to the light of dawn streaming through the crack in the heavy curtains….I looked over at my angels,  peacefully sleeping….Gratitude buoyed my spirit to get up and peek out the window.  The brightness of the morning sun in a sea of blue sky greeted me.  I looked for signs of damage in the parking lot but couldn’t see any, except for a few snapped pines at the edge of the lot….I thanked God for keeping us safe, no matter what awaited us that was all that mattered at the moment….

After a morning quest for breakfast and a survey of the area, we returned to the motel and waited for phone lines to be fixed.  Damages from the hurricane were obvious everywhere we went, mostly in the form of trees snapped like toothpicks, signs on the ground, and roofs ripped off buildings.  By mid-afternoon we were able to get through on a pay phone to my worried family in Pennsylvania to reassure them of our safety….More difficult decisions awaited us….with the certainty of no power for weeks and unknown damages to our home, we didn’t want our third child to be born into this very stressful environment.  We decided the boys and I should go to my parent’s home up north and my husband would return to our home to deal with the damages and our dog.  The hardest part of that decision was that he would miss the birth of our child.  My parents were  more than willing to pick us up but saying good-bye to my husband was very difficult for the boys and I….Somehow I felt a quiet assurance that out of a tragedy a miracle would come.  My father worried as we bumped up the highway through the mountains that that miracle was going to bounce out into the world on the backseat of his conversion van….These words from Psalm 121 comfort me when I think of what we’ve been through and still have yet to face with childbirth approaching any day:  ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills. From whence does my help come?  My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth….The Lord is your keeper, the Lord is your shade on your right hand.  The sun shall not smite you by day, nor the moon by night.’ 

One week and a day later, out of the devastation of a hurricane, our beautiful daughter was born!  She was and is our Hugo miracle!  Our dog was fine, many trees were down in our yard but none, thankfully, on our house.  Like most people we needed a new roof.  Our neighbors weren’t so lucky, or maybe they were…a huge pine landed in the center of their house and narrowly missed a four year old boy sleeping in the room but it got them on the Oprah show.  I watched the aftermath far away in Pennsylvania as I healed from childbirth and kept up with my baby girl and the boys with the help of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  Three weeks after our daughter was born we were elated to be reunited with my husband.  I will never forget his face when we pulled in the driveway and he met his little girl for the first time!     

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