22 September 2009


on 22 september 1989, hurricane hugo made landfall on the continental u.s. my then-partner and i had just move to mt. pleasant, a suburb of coastal charleston, sc. as it happened, the path of the eye of the hurricane was precisely centered on mt. pleasant. hugo was the most destructive hurricane on record at that time, later surpassed only by hurricanes andrew and katrina.

joining several hundred thousand other residents, we obeyed the governor's order to evacuate inland. the single freeway was a maddening traffic jam, cars progressing by inches. hours later, we finally arrived at our motel (always call ahead to make reservations!!) in columbia, the state capital. there we waited for three endless days for the all-clear to return. when it arrived, we rushed back to see if our home had survived. the suspense was murder, as we droved through forests literally flattened by the force of the storm's winds (clocked as high as 160 mph), all the fallen trees pointing in the same direction -- downwind. what a relieve when we got back to charleston and found the cooper river bridge intact, allowing us access to mt. pleasant. debris was everywhere -- tree limbs and fallen trees, overturned cars, people's possessions ripped from their homes, sailboats carried far inland by the hurricane's storm surge. we were lucky -- our house was intact, save for a fallen pine tree lying across one corner of the roof. not even a broken window.

it was three weeks before electricity and water were restored, three weeks of camping out in one's own home. paradoxically, the hurricane provided me with a job, doing habitat restoration for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker with the u.s. forest service, in the nearby francis marion national forest. but that's another story.

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