Perhaps you thought that this column would focus on the election results since it is being written on November 7, but its not. Many are disappointed in the outcome of the national voting, but we must move on. Today instead of politics, I want to focus on people. Hurricane Sandy has devastated much of the northeast, and thousands of people still have no power, heat, or hope. As I watch the news and observe people suffering with loss of homes and businesses, I am reminded of Hurricane Hugo and the pain our community and state experienced. This week’s column will include an article I wrote 23 years ago about Hugo for a local newsletter. Perhaps as we remember the desolation we saw after Hugo, some of us will be more willing to share resources with our northern friends. Americans are bigger than politics, kinder than politicians, and always willing to help.
“Just for a moment, imagine a cool breeze blowing off the water while Gulls fly quietly looking for dinner. Crabs are scurrying over the sand, disappearing into their tiny burrows scattered along the beach. A lone fisherman stands knee deep in the water enjoying the beauty of the ocean. A child’s laughter is heard in the distance as he delights in the shells found along the shore. The waves are quietly breaking along the beach. The tide comes in, the tide goes out and all is well along the South Carolina Coast. However, out in the Atlantic Ocean, Hurricane Hugo races toward the shore; death and destruction its goal.
Driving into Garden City Beach, the Saturday after Hugo, Bunny and I witness total destruction. The inlet was the final resting place for drink machines, cars, tables, washers, linens… the list just goes on and on. The arcade area of the beach looked as if a bomb had exploded. The shops were still standing, but their contents overflowed into the streets where human vultures picked through the goods. Sam’s Restaurant on the corner was gutted; the only friendly reminder was the Game Cock on the wall. The pier where we had strolled two weeks earlier was only a memory. A few pilings were all that remain of the historical landmark. The Bamboo Motel was heavily damaged as were the condos where the pool was completely filled with sand. The utility poles that had just been replaced that summer leaned to and fro along the road, their wires freely blowing in the wind. The only power running through the wires was the power of the ocean breeze. As we drove towards our house, neighboring houses were nowhere to be seen, and the few that could be identified were hundreds of feet and several rows away from their foundations. The road was completely covered with wet dark sand, while grass and sea oats were gone. A few Palmetto Trees waved in the breeze, others were uprooted and missing. Shrubs were burnt and dying from the salt water that had invaded their territory. The ocean, though calm, was dark and appeared angry. In the water, debris from houses could be seen floating about or hidden near the shore. The beach was littered with shells, the sand was murky, and there were very few birds to be seen.
As we approached our house, the Colonel, it appeared to be standing, but heavily damaged. The house across the street had been washed off its foundation and was now wedged up under our house. In the collision, the Colonel’s roof was ripped off, walls were destroyed, and the bottom floor and stairs were gone. The six houses directly across the street had disappeared. Some of the houses could be located near the inlet but were in ruins. Others were never found. As we talked with neighbors, one couple shared that the only thing they found from their house was a bedroom curtain hanging on a power pole near the beach. The house next door was crushed and tossed two rows back. The owners told us the only piece of furniture to survive had been the glass top off the coffee table. It had ridden out the storm without a scratch or a chip. As we walked around the neighborhood, one of the most interesting sights was a house that had been completely destroyed. Windows, doors, and furniture were all washed away. The house had come from the front row and was now three rows back. Looking inside I could see a built-in shelf with a variety of sea shells displayed. The shells had not moved. As I looked at these shells, I wondered what kind of storm could destroy homes, wash away a lifetime of possessions, but yet, leave sea shells untouched. Walking back towards our house, I passed people hurrying towards their property. Many asked how we had fared; others were too preoccupied to see anything but the surrounding ruins.
In reflection, I see the ocean, basically it’s the same. The waves rise and fall, the tides continue to come and go. People, birds, shells, and sand are still around though in a different state. The beach may not be the same next summer, but soon it will heal itself. Owners will cleanup and rebuild. Houses will be redesigned to be higher and sturdier. We will survive the damage Hugo left behind. For many years man has gravitated towards the ocean because of its beauty and its relaxation. Hugo destroyed a great deal, but it will not destroy man’s love for the ocean. South Carolina beaches will survive and the citizens will be better and stronger because of what we have experienced.”
The people in the northeast today have a long way to go and many difficult days ahead. They will survive and be better and stronger citizens because of this experience. The people in our country have a long way to go and many difficult days ahead. I have faith that we will be stronger and better citizens in the future and I still believe the Sun will come up… tomorrow.