Hugo the Hurricane Back to Bike Stories // Back to the Weeville Home Page
The Herald, Friday February 16, 1990
Excursion offers glimpse
The springlike weather in late January took everyone by surprise. The warm spell coincided with my long weekend off work, so I hit the road. I let the wind help me design a four-day ride with overnight stops in Wadesboro, N.C., Darlington and Lugoff.
The first two days were uneventful, but the weather and scenery afforded me some glorious training miles. Day three, the ride from Darlington to Lugoff, provided the eye-opener for the trip.
Without forethought, I strayed into the path Hurricane Hugo carved through the Midstate. Even after the shellacking we took in Rock Hill, I was unprepared for the destruction I saw. The area around Camden and Sumter absorbed a lot of the storm's force before it hit Rock Hill.
The locals told me that many tornadoes accompanied Hugo through the area, and I saw where one of them had plowed. I rode past a very thick grove of trees that had been leveled. There beside the road was an almost hopeless amount of timber, already starting to rot on the wet ground.
In downtown Bishopville, a tree mashed a stately two-story house. It demolished the front porch and centerpunched the roof. Four months later, the tree had been pruned, but the main trunk leaned right where it fell, a sad monument to an ocean storm's savagery. A "danger" sign steered pedestrians away.
In this region, the hurricane's wind was strong enough to destroy a structure without using a tree as a weapon. Some of the older farm buildings collapsed into ugly heaps, and others virtually exploded, scattering debris about the countryside. At one site, a large piece of roofing tin was wedged in the topmost branch of a surviving oak tree, some 150 yards from the rest of the wreckage.
On S.C. 34, I passed a house with a carport that had been converted into a family room. Hugo had converted it back into a carport. Hunks of the shattered walls still clung to the room's skeleton, and a riding lawn mower was now stored where the couch used to be.
The whole scene reminded me of Rock Hill two weeks after the storm, but not four months afterward. Why was there such a difference in recovery times?
As I rode into Camden, I began asking around. I got a variety of answers, but everyone agreed the cleanup is definitely crawling. The greatest obstacle is the sheer enormity of the disaster, but scapegoats have surfaced as the months drag on.
Some point the finger at insurance problems; others say there's a dire shortage of building contractors. An out-of-state work force has pitched in, but finding an available repairman is still compared to winning a lottery.
"We're behind the time," one woman snapped. "We'll get everything fixed. It might take 20 years, but we'll get it."
She said some of the property I had seen was rental and blamed part of the holdup on unconcerned landlords. She told of two frustrated tenants who spent their own money to have trees removed. They borrowed a dump truck and deposited the stumps on the front lawn of the realty office that collects their rent, indicative of the ill feelings that abound.
Tantrums are easy to understand given the circumstances, but I also met a few calmer folks who have never lost touch with what they felt the morning after the storm, when they were simply glad to be alive.
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