Surviving the Storm

I was at my Aunt Lola’s house—a second home for me. My mother picked me up around dusk to take me back to our house. I was only six years old when Hurricane Hugo barreled into Charleston on September 22, 1989; it was a strong Category 5 storm. Johnsonville is only 88 miles from Charleston and 45 miles from Myrtle Beach. Hugo was much bigger than the entire state, which meant we would definitely feels its impact.

I don’t remember if I slept in my room at all that night, but I did sleep at the foot of my parent’s bed. I awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of the wind and the rain. I looked out of the window and even in the darkness could see those tall pine trees swaying in the wind. It was the first major hurricane of my life, and though I felt safe there in my parent’s room, I went back to my make-shift bed of blankets, eyes wide open, listening to the rain and the wind.

It’s how the wind sounds now that the Tropical Storm formerly known as Hurricane Florence batters the Carolinas. My partner Lester and I are as prepared as we can be: we have our flashlights, water bottles, and non-perishable foods ready. Just two years ago we prepped for Hurricane Matthew and before that for the 1,000-year flood of 2015.

When Hugo finally passed, we went outside to see the damage: felled pine trees throughout the yard, huge branches all over the place, one of our neighbors had a tree fall on their house, the hole like a gaping wound. It took weeks for us to get electricity again. Some of the food in our deep freezer spoiled, and the lines to get gas were long

But we survived.

Even without electricity we ate good. My father had a portable burner with plenty of propane, and he tried to grill as much of the meat as he could. We had coolers full of ice and drinks. We cleaned up our yard. Weeks later my father would follow many of our neighbors and cut down the remaining pine trees in our yard.

We don’t know yet the sum of what Flo will bring to South Carolina. I live in Columbia now, so we’re three hours inland from the coast, which affords us a buffer of sorts. But like Hugo, Florence is just as big, if not bigger than the entire state and we don’t know how the rivers and dams will handle all the extra water.

We are survivors by nature, even when Mother Nature lashes us with the reminder that we are not more powerful than her.

One of Lester’s cousins was to get married in Charleston today, but instead of re-scheduling the wedding, they had a private ceremony in her parent’s home. On the short drive there, we didn’t see much of anything, just little tree limbs and leaves strewn about and a light rain. The ceremony was full of laughter and tears and love, even in the midst of storm churning all around us…

Love survived today.

My mother was fifty-eight years old when she was wheeled into a non-emergency ambulance and transported to the Hospice House in Florence (the city that’s one hour away from Johnsonville). She took her last breath there as Tropical Storm Ernesto dumped rain outside her room window.

I survived that grief.

My mother was six years old too when Hurricane Hazel came through South Carolina. I remember her telling a story about how they went to the home of a white man her father worked for to wait out the storm. They endured that Category 4 hurricane on the man’s screened-in back porch. On the back porch.

My ancestors survived.

I survived Hugo when I was six years old because I had the privilege of growing up in a home where my parents had the means and experience to be prepared. They knew what to do. They didn’t panic or lose control. So although the storm itself was terrifying, what happened in its aftermath was not. I was safe, fed, and hydrated.

Hurricane Florence will be a record-breaking storm; storms come and go often. It’s what we do when the storm is over that matters.

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