Hurricane's a coming

We, in SC, are lucky this time, seems like Irene will pass us by. My girls and I just filled our 10 gallon water jugs, the pantry is stocked, I don't think too much will happen here. But each time a hurricane brews in the Atlantic my mind flies back to the Hurricane that destroyed everything I knew. Here is the article I wrote for The Sun News on the 20th anniversary of Hugo.

"It was September 1989, I had just started my junior year at Myrtle Beach High School. My life was full: I was on the dance squad, a member of various clubs, in the chorus, and excited about my new-to-me used car.  My parents owned a little motel on the beach in Surfside, we lived in an apartment behind the office. On September 25th my family and I turned all eyes to the television to watch a tropical development in the Atlantic. We had been through storms before, we thought we knew what to expect and how to prepare for whatever the ocean brought our way. Everything about our lives would soon change.

On September 28th we evacuated our beach front property in preparation from Hurricane Hugo. We knocked on the motel room doors to tell the few guests we had that we were leaving and they would need to as well. We began packing our belongings in our vehicles. I distinctly remember packing a bag with a few of my clothes, tucking in the dust ruffle on my bed and putting my beloved box of childhood mementos on top of my bed. I was sure the box would be safe there in case a little water came in. It was unsettling to leave our home running from a storm but we thought life would resume the next day.

My family and I drove to 2nd Avenue in Myrtle Beach, my mom thought being a few miles north and inland would be safer. My parents, brother, grandfather, our pets, and I would be staying with my oldest sister in her little house. The same house that had weathered numerous hurricanes without a scratch, all the way back to Hurricane Hazel in 1954.

At my sister’s house, we settled in with extra batteries, flashlights and candles and waited for landfall. We talked about the legend of my grandmother riding out Hazel in that house. She had watched through the windows, with her two young children, when Hazel hit during the day in 1954. When the eye of the hurricane passed over, she grabbed her children and raced to the beach. She stood at the dunes to watch the ocean violently roll and knead itself. She watched as 2nd Avenue pier broke apart. As the hurricane picked back up she returned to the safety of her home.

My only knowledge of disaster was what I had heard or read in my short life.  I had recently read ‘Alas, Babylon‘. As my family prepared the for the storm, remembering disaster preparations from the book, I filled up the tubs, sinks and all the containers I could find with water. As it happened, the water I saved ended up being worth it’s weight in gold. For days after Hugo it was all the water we had.

As night began to fall around us and Hugo swirled closer to Charleston, we heard a knock on the door. It was the police, they were making sure people in the neighborhood had evacuated. My mom told the officer that we were staying. The policeman had her sign a form, listing everyone in the house and their ages. He also had her write down our next of kin’s contact information in the event of our deaths. I think that is when I broke down. The fear and stress of the afternoon came tumbling through an internal dam, I leaned over on my sister and cried.

My sister at college in North Carolina, begged on the phone for us to leave, but it was too late to leave even if we wanted to.

During the night the phones and lights went out. WKZQ stayed on the air giving us updates after law enforcement and emergency services left. I remember how eerie it was as the radio played “Riders on the Storm” by The Doors and the wind made the house whine and creak around us. My parents and older sister talked about what we would do if the house flooded. The attic, someone said, we could all get up there if the water rises. They worried about my grandfather, who couldn’t swim, as if anyone would be able to swim out of what was coming.

We eventually blew out the candles and went to bed with Hugo growling around us. When we woke in the morning, the sun was out and birds were chirping. It was like waking from a bad dream. Did that really happen last night?

My brother and dad had left at the crack of dawn to get down to the motel before law enforcement was out to stop them. When they came back hours later their faces were solemn as they prepared my mom for the bad news. The motel was indescribable. Destroyed. My mom wanted to leave then to see for herself but the roads were blocked by debris and the National Guard. We would have to wait to until tomorrow for them to take us all back down there.

The next day we headed to Surfside. We rode along Business 17, looking absolute destruction. When we finally made it to Surfside, my parents went to city hall to get a permit to go see our ocean front property. We drove down Ocean Boulevard, around newly formed sand dunes and fallen Palmetto trees in the road. We stopped in the street in front of where the motel had stood. Our two story, L-shaped hotel was missing half of the first floor rooms. The ground beneath it was gone, only a huge hole, broken asphalt and concrete remained. The second story was dangling in midair as if waving goodbye to the storm that had destroyed it.

Part of the motel, that had been our downstairs apartment, was filled with sand, broken furniture, dead fish, and trash. Only the furniture that was too big to wash out a door or window had stayed. Nearly everything we had was gone or destroyed and there wasn’t any flood insurance on the motel.

The clean-up began. We salvaged what we could, taking it upstairs to a mostly undamaged part of the motel. All our tools, wheel barrow, ladders, everything we needed to clean and repair had been washed away. We did what we could that day and returned to our new home. We went to bed dirty and got up in the morning, put on dirty clothes and went back to work. We drank, bathed, and made food with the reserved water I had saved (in the tub).

One long, hot day while we were working, thirsty and hungry (they hadn’t invented 20 oz. bottled water to take everywhere, yet), my brother and I dug the motel’s vending machine out of the dirt. He pried the door off and found several unbroken glass sodas bottles. We popped the top on one and passed around the hot, sticky, orange drink. My mother looks back in embarrassment because that happened to be the moment a journalist decided to interview her holding the dirty, hot drink, dug out of the sand.

When the phones came back on we began hearing from motel guests, who had stayed at our motel since I was a little girl. They were calling to see if we were okay. My mom had a hard time breaking the news to the guests. Days later, these guests, some of them retirement-age, began showing up with hammers, saws, and tool belts. They asked what we needed, they were ready to work.

They helped us rebuild our home and our livelihood. Friends of friends came unannounced and showed us how to frame doors and walls, how to build a new staircase. People helped us haul out hundreds of pounds of water soaked, sand weighted carpet. My sister’s service fraternity showed up en masse to haul away cinder blocks, trash and wood. My dance squad brought food and clothes and cleaned out the rotting food in our the buried kitchen. There was no end to the kindness, to the love we felt.

I learned more about myself, my family, and humanity in those months of rebuilding than I have in my life since. I had never been challenged so much or for so long. Before that year, I had rarely held a hammer, never sanded or swept until I had blisters on my hands, never lost everything and had to rebuild it myself.

Twenty-five years later it is still hard to believe all the destruction and sorrow that happened because of Hugo. My family, when asked about that time, remembers the pain and fear of the not knowing what would come next. But then a pride comes into our voices, we shift our shoulders back and talk about our strength and endurance through that disaster. We rebuilt our lives, with the help of friends, motel guests, neighbors, strangers. As hard as it was, it made our backbones stronger and our skin tougher. Hugo stands for more than a ravaging storm, for us it stands for Help Us Go On."

written by Neva Campbell and published in The Sun News September 2009

1 comment:

  1. That was a great article. My husband is in North Carolina right now for work and can not evacuate. I am in Massachusetts with the kids hoping it will have died down before it gets here. Good tip with the water in the tub. I will now be filling up both my tubs.


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