My husband, Bud, and I had been living aboard our 42-foot Grand Banks on the Isle of Palms Marina when the announcement came over the radio: “Hurricane Hugo is headed for Charleston. Those who reside in vulnerable places should evacuate.”

Parts of buildings litter the streets of Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 22, 1989, after Hurricane Hugo swept through the historic city. Kay Wheeler, her husband and their cat evacuated their boat and took shelter in an apartment on land. Lou Krasky/Associated Press, File

Around 3 p.m., Bud phoned me from work and told me to gather our important papers and valuables and pick him up. We had good friends who lived on Wragg Square in Charleston. Their parents lived next door in the house that was the shelter for the hurricane of 1893. It was a beautiful brick federal with double brick walls and verandas on both floors. Our friends’ parents were vacationing in Italy, and we were invited to stay in the apartment until the storm passed.

I took what was gathered up from the boat, including our wonderful seal point Siamese cat, and put it in their apartment. I drove to the Medical University and picked up my husband, parking in the university parking garage. We then walked to our friends’ home.

It was decided we would party and have dinner on their veranda until the storm came in.

Bud was an oceanographer and took this all much more seriously than the rest of us. About 7 p.m. the old live oaks, hanging with Spanish moss, began to sway in the increasing winds. Suddenly, Bud stood up and said, “It is time to adjourn while we can still walk against the wind.” We all left the veranda; just as our friend closed the door, a ceramic tile from a roof across the street hit it. Our friend might have been very injured if he hadn’t been inside.

As we entered the apartment, a kitchen window imploded and glass flew all the way to the front of the house. Bud grabbed a chair, draped his raincoat over the back and tried to shove it into the space where the window had been. It was too much to hold it there against the howling winds and beating rain. He had nothing to tie it in place. Being in a strange apartment, we didn’t know where to find any cord. I pulled off the tie to my robe and we secured the chair. I found a large pasta cutting board and we tied it behind the chair. I was terrified!


The storm raged several more hours and then, suddenly, all was calm. We opened the French doors and walked out on the veranda. The air was stale and sticky. It smelled the way I imagined the inside of a crypt would: dank and stinking and disgusting. The air was perfectly still. You could clearly see all the stars. The night bugs were silent. We put our arms around each other and walked back inside to await the second half of the storm.

Then the winds began to pick up again. We knew this would be every bit as scary as the first half of the storm. This time, the large veranda glass doors were shaking and it seemed the whole building was swaying. This went on another couple of hours – then, dead silence, it was over.

We slept the rest of the night with the cat cuddled up against us. I have never been through such a night. It was like a freight train passing over, but yet more like the screaming of a thousand banshees.

The next morning, Wragg Square was in shambles. The birds were standing motionless. The smell was straight out of Hades.

The storm annihilated the grocery stores. Thank goodness our children sent us packages full of food, cat food, bathroom tissue, etc. Our boat was wrecked. The hurricane picked up the whole marina and threw it on nearby Goat Island. To end this with a little humor, all of us who lost boats had T-shirts made. The shirts said, “Goat Island Yacht Club, September 21, 1989.”

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