Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Remembering Hurricane Season

Posted to OGR 09/19/2010

As I write this, there are three storms in the Atlantic basin; Hurricane Igor has his sights set on Bermuda, Tropical Storm Julia is bearing northeast away from all land masses and there is a tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa. Last week there were four storms spinning around, but Hurricane Karl made landfall in Mexico a few days ago. Yes, we are in the peak of the hurricane season. While growing up in Jacksonville Florida, I paid close attention to the weather this time of year. Many storms threatened us and grew to recognize that particular type of rain that usually heralded the arrival of a hurricane. When I moved to Columbia South Carolina, I thought those days were behind me. After all, Columbia is more than 100 miles from the coast. I thought I was safe, that is, until 1989. Late in the evening of September 21st, we had a visitor named Hugo. He slammed into the Isle of Palms and whistled through Downtown Charleston. Other suburban areas; Mount Pleasant, Sullivan's Island, Isle of Palms, and Goose Creek suffered significant damage. Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms were cut off from the mainland by the storm's destruction of the Ben Sawyer Bridge. Who can forget the iconic images of the sailboat on its side on Lockwood Avenue, or the remains of the shrimp boats at McClellanville.

But Hugo was not satisfied to wreak havoc on the coast. He raged northwest, passing between Columbia and Sumter and then laid siege to Charlotte, North Carolina. I remember the eye wall passing over my home when the howling northeastern wind suddenly died out and a quiet unlike any that I have ever experienced before or since fell on the city. About 10 minutes later, the wind resumed, this time from the northwest. That told me that we were near the western edge of the eye and that most of it was east of us. I can tell you there was little sleep that night.

The next morning dawned quiet and hot. It is always hot after a hurricane. We were fortunate in that the only damage to our home was to the corner of one shingle. Now the trees in my yard were not quite as fortunate. It took me all weekend to clear the debris. All of this was done without any power. The utility grid in my neighborhood was decimated and it would be 5 days before power would be restored. I remember the feeling of realizing what a disaster really meant to the survivors. More than once, as I cleaned up, or drove around town, viewing the damage, I remember wishing that somehow it would all go away. Hugo caused $7 billion (in 1989 dollars) damage, mostly in South Carolina. At the time it was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history, but was exceeded in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew and by three other storms since then. It remains the sixth costliest hurricane in U.S. history.

A couple of years later, we visited friends in Mount Pleasant. I thought we had it bad, but they had gone for 6 weeks without power. Driving around Charleston and the suburbs, the remnants of the severe damage were still plainly visible. The cut between Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms, one of my favorite places on the coast, was gone. Hugo moved it several hundred yards up the beach. But the curve of the old bridge and the shoreline, the small beach where children played and fisherman cast their lines into the clear, calm waters sheltered from the ocean waves behind the headlands remain clear in the scrapbook of my mind. Oh MY!

Copyright 2010 Rick Wrigley

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