July 21, 2017

Escape From Hurricane Hugo 1989

Up Close and Personal with Hurricane Hugo

The Sea Islands, Amelia is the southernmost is...

The Sea Islands, Amelia is the southernmost island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With hurricane Matthew making a beeline towards the east coast, it brings to mind our own brush with an imminent hurricane threat we had to deal with in September of 1989. We had arrived at our new home base of Amelia Island, Florida in October of 1988. It quickly became apparent that we were in for some different weather conditions than any of us had experienced before. Almost within a week in 1988 we were subjected to the brunt of a tropical storm which set us up for what would be some wild and sometimes worrisome hurricane seasons.

Back to September of 1989…Even after a short time living in Florida we were quickly educated to always keep a weather eye, especially in the fall. We were constantly updated about weather systems coming off the coast of Africa that had the potential to become major hurricanes that could make landfall. So, we had been tracking hurricane Hugo for quite some time when it finally got close enough that we were forced to make a decision to either stay on the island, or leave. We chose to leave. I do think our location to drive too might have been a bit of an overkill, but more on that later*.

For most of the last few days before Hugo made landfall, it was aimed almost directly at Amelia Island. It wasn’t until the day we left and through the night that it’s path was changed and pushed eastward by another weather front pushing east that moved Hugo’s track in that direction as well.

We were living in a rental house that September and all of our belongings we owned were there with us, courtesy of the US Navy who had shipped it cross country for us. That included a big heavy picnic table Jim had built. You know, when you have to evacuate you learn to set your priorities quite quickly. For us, that meant gathering up our important documents, pictures and the cat. It was never more apt a phrase that when you have to get away quickly “you can’t take it with you” applies so well.

When we drove to Florida from Washington in 1988 Jim had put together a small trailer and mounted a cargo container on top. We still had it when it came time to ‘get out of Dodge’ and proved to be a lifesaver so we could add containers, a cooler and tools to it. Inside the car (a Honda Accord) we had us and our cat, along with the cat box and her crate. How quickly we forget…I guess our son Greg rode with our friends in their vehicle.

From that last statement, you can see that we didn’t travel alone when leaving the island. We left town with our old Washington friends and previous next door neighbors, the Hesses. None of us had been in a hurricane before, or knew what to do when we had to leave the island. How far should we go, how far inland would the storm reach? How high could the storm surge be and how far in would it reach? I can tell you, I had visions of our house being swept away and the island being left barren! Hey, I’m a Washington state girl. You know…earthquakes, volcanoes and winter storms.

*Not knowing how far reaching the storm might be, we headed to Tallahassee. It might seem silly now, but because we didn’t get the alert to evacuate until about a day ahead of time most of the motels along the routes were already full. Instead of making tons of phone calls to try to find rooms for all of us close to the island, we just opted for Tallahassee and held our breaths that we would have homes to come back to the next day.

The weather was uncomfortably calm in Tallahassee and in our rooms we were glued to the TV’s hoping for any update about our little island. As I mentioned earlier, Hugo turned northeast and instead hit Charleston almost directly. Amelia Island had been mostly spared from the storm, but we had friends living on the outskirts of Charleston, South Carolina and the wife had stayed in their house with the kitties, while her Navy husband was on his ship that had made its escape from the base and put far enough out to sea to avoid the brunt of the storm. It was about a week later that I found out how our friends had fared in Charleston.

To be continued…

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