An unapologetic plant geek shares advice and opinions on gardening, the contrived and the natural landscape, as well as occasional topics from the other side of the gate.

September 21, 2014

Hurricane Hugo 1989

     Once upon a time, a young man was supposed to meet some friends for a long weekend at a beach house in North Carolina. However, he was given the wrong address, and in those days there were no such things as cell phones, and he had no way to find his friends. So what was the young man to do? He certainly didn't want go back to gray Richmond, rather he headed further south to Charleston, a place that he had always imagined he would like, and indeed he did, so much so, he decided that very weekend to make his home there. He loved Charleston's architecture, the ghosts of its history, its Gothic atmosphere, and its beaches, but he especially loved the Lowcountry. In places he felt that the landscape of palmetto, marsh, and live oaks dripping with Spanish moss still held some of the earth's original magic, and this feeling startled his usually cynical self.

     Being an innkeeper by trade, the young man had no trouble finding employment, and as soon as he secured a position, moved himself to one of the sea islands just outside the city. For the next three years he made many good friends, learned the area's stories, grew fat on shrimp, and explored the Carolina countryside. It was a wonderful life. Then a disturbance from the west African coast, later to be named Hugo, appeared on the radar, and he was overcome with a premonition of dread and inevitability. As the storm neared, he and his fellow citizens pleaded with the gods to spare the beautiful city. Perhaps Hugo could take Myrtle Beach instead. The pleas were for naught, and at the last minute he was forced to evacuate his island home, heading inland in a car full of dogs and one brave cat. The night Hugo hit was spent huddling with others in a Columbia hallway as tornadoes swirled outside. It was the longest night of the young man's life. Two days later he and his fellow evacuees made the long drive back to the coast, where it quickly became apparent that the place he had come to love seemed to have been forever changed.

     Although the destruction was vast, the young man's home was spared but for minor water damage and the loss of utilities, so he moved back in. He was also fortunate to still have employment, and spent the next few months inspecting hotel rooms, condos, villas and houses for hurricane damage. Despite his good fortune, he couldn't bare looking at what had happened to Charleston and the Lowcountry, and with heavy heart decided to leave the place. He would prefer to keep his memories of the time before, and to not have splintered trunks, missing buildings, and mountains of rubble be constant reminders of the time after. Though given the opportunity, in the years that followed he chose not to return, but in time his now middle aged life found him back again for several visits. It did his heart good to see how the trees had grown, and how the city had not only healed, but was more vibrant than ever. To him it was almost as if the storm had never happened, and was just one more thing the city had survived, another page in its history book to accompany the British siege, the Union bombardment, the great earthquake, the tornadoes, and being discovered by the outside world.

Downtown Charleston
Near St. Matthews Lutheran Church
North Market St.
North Market St. 
2nd Presbyterian Church 
Churchyard Wall
Brittlebank Park
Brittlebank Park
Hampton Park
Hampton Park
James Island
James Island
Johns Island
Iggly Wiggly, Johns Island
Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island
Kiawah Island
National Guard Troops, Marion Square

20 comments:

  1. These pictures are heartbreaking. You know how I feel about storms.

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    1. I do know how you feel, Janet. Having survived Hugo made Isabel seem like a thunderstorm.

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  2. I saw Charleston before and after Hugo (the following year), and the difference was amazing. Whole forests flattened, contractor's signs on almost every house along the Battery.

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    1. ...and don't forget all the blue tarps.

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  3. That was a helluva storm. I was in Raleigh at the time, planning a May wedding in Greenwood, S.C. (where I grew up) with a honeymoon in Charleston at the Indigo Inn. Hugo blew all the way inland to Charlotte (200 miles from the coast), but my fiance and I were young and oblivious and didn't realize the extent of the damage.

    On Friday, the day after Hugo hit, we left after work for Greenwood, a 4-hour drive that normally took us around Charlotte. The highway was strangely dark, and as we neared Charlotte we noticed that all the big highway signs had blown down or were folded over, like a giant's hand had swatted them. Wow, we said, and kept going. We missed our exit because of the signs being down and ended up in downtown Charlotte, where we were astonished to see glass all over the streets from the downtown skyscrapers, which looked as if a bomb had gone off, toppled trees, flashing lights, and closed roads.

    It opened our eyes to the power of the storm, and as we watched the news (finally) and saw the damage to Charleston, a city I knew and loved, it was heartbreaking. We did still honeymoon there the following May, since the Indigo Inn was still standing and Spoleto was still on. We saw that many trees were gone, but overall Charleston seemed resilient and unbroken. It's a tough city, despite all those pretty pastel houses, and it's weathered much worse than Hugo. Let's hope global warming isn't what will finally do her in.

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    1. Interesting to read your perspective of Hugo Pam as you know we are now in Greenwood. Heard there were some tornadoes through town.

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    2. Strangely, I don't recall anything about the storm's impact on Greenwood, Janet, so maybe there wasn't much damage. Nothing much in Raleigh either, where I lived at the time. Charlotte though, which is further inland than Raleigh, really took a hit.

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    3. At least the people living in Charleston had a warning. Charlotte was broadsided. Though Hugo damaged much of SC inland from the coast, something happened when it hit Charlotte to make it intensify.

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  4. Wow....you have some good pictures. I don't have very many. Charleston Magazine did a good write up in their September issue and they did use a few of mine.

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    1. I did have a few more photos, but my scanner is a pain to operate, and I lost patience. Some of my favorite shots were of piles of donated clothes taken to Kiawah, as if the "poor" people of Kiawah needed any clothing, let alone clothes already worn by someone else.

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  5. I was in Florida when Hugo came through and could not get home. We lived in a rural area with only two ways to get in both with small bridges which flooded. Had to stay in town with friends and what a disaster things were afterwards.

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    1. Fluffy, people often forget that hurricanes can hit more than one area, and focus is usually given to just one spot.

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  6. Ahh Les. I enjoyed hearing how that young man discovered the place that spoke to his heart and how that awful storm severed the bond.

    Never realized that Hugo had been so devastating ...

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    1. Sybil, it was indeed devastating. Fortunately it made landfall north of the city in a sparsely populated area, but those people who did live there went through a nightmare.

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  7. Storms do such amazing damage and not always exactly where or what you could even imagine. My sister, who lives in southern Vermont, got hit with a hurricane a couple of years ago. Since it missed NYC it barely made the news though it cause terrible devastation. We live in tornado country and my brother-in-law's house was at the center of a touchdown a number of years ago. Luckily they were not home so not hurt though the house was ruined. A tornado touched down a couple of streets away from us earlier this summer. The damage from house to house was different in kind and degree. But the house where it probably actually touched down was destroyed. These days I think we all take storms seriously. No more standing on the porch to watch for funnel clouds!

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    1. Linda, I think I would much rather have a hurricane than a tornado. At least you can prepare for a hurricane. Tornadoes are so random.

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  8. Great story, sobering photos. Thanks for sharing, and reminding us that there really were hurricanes before Katrina!

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    1. Andrew, Floyd, Camille, Agnus, Rita, Sandy. With climate change, they might run out of names and have to start using numbers.

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