Carolina residents reeling after Florence

Residents in North and South Carolina fight rising floodwaters as officials warn the worst is yet to come.

Posted: Sep 19, 2018 5:25 AM
Updated: Sep 19, 2018 5:37 AM

I remember Hurricane Hugo. Back then, in September 1989, I was one of many Howard University students sending canned goods, water and other supplies to people affected by the Category 4 hurricane that crashed into South Carolina and immediately caused chaos.

Huge power outages swept the state. My family was living in a small community called Boyer, in the middle of the state, and went without electricity for nine days. On the Grand Strand, which includes Pawleys Island and Myrtle Beach, homes snapped like pretzels. Majestic trees were strewn like toothpicks by Hugo's 140-mph sustained winds (with gusts of more than 160 mph). According to the National Hurricane Center, at least 50 people lost their lives as a direct result of the storm.

Forecasters agreed Hurricane Florence had the potential of being a bigger wolf than Hugo. Sheep had to be on guard. That's why I made a special plea to my shepherd.

Enter the anointed oil. It was what I held in my hand as I stood alone at the door of my Myrtle Beach condo. A preacher had given it to me 10 years before during a revival meeting.

When I heard about Florence's fury, I asked Jesus to protect my life, my family, my friends, my foes and our homes. I anointed my condo with the oil.

Then, after I prayed and packed, I got into my 2006 Honda Accord V6 and put some distance between Florence and myself. I was going to be with my mama and other loved ones more than 100 miles away.

Florence, may find me, I thought, but she won't see me in Myrtle Beach.

Hurricanes wear you out. Folks who have endured them know this. They inconvenience all of us. They make plenty of us frantic. They make us spend money we need for other things. They make enough of us angry.

The molasses-moving Florence was no different.

"I think it sucks,'' said John Smeyda, my Myrtle Beach neighbor, when we spoke on the phone Friday. He decided to stay behind.

He is a 57-year-old retired electrician with a Marine haircut and a voice that booms. For him, Florence was a headache he wanted to go away as soon as possible.

On Friday, the storm still hadn't showed up. It had been raining for hours. Gusty winds were getting more rambunctious.

Florence was weakening, slowing down. She danced her way out of a Category 4 rating and eventually diminished in strength, becoming a tropical depression.

Yet her wickedness can't be denied. More than 30 people have died in North and South Carolina and Virginia. The flooding caused by the storm's torrential rains may bring even more devastation.

My classmate, Jacqueline Gilmore Jackson, 49, resides in Wilmington, North Carolina. She and her 20-year-old son, Devin, are OK. Their home didn't sustain any critical damage. She lost some shingles. Part of her fence came down, but there is no water accumulation on her property at all.

A mere 30 minutes away, others weren't as fortunate. She said cars are floating down streets. Homes are almost hidden by floodwaters. Her city is basically cut off, for now, from the outside world.

Gilmore Jackson said the major highways leading into Wilmington are closed because of the flooding. Roads have washed out. Bridges have given out.

"Nobody can help us right now," she told me Monday when I called to check on her. "We have to help ourselves. Of course, God is helping us all."

I am thankful to hear this. I know firsthand how dangerous and unpredictable unrepentant weather can be.

During my career at The Myrtle Beach Sun News, where I was a journalist for nearly 20 years, I met notable members of Florence's family.

Fran was wicked. Back in October 1996, I watched as a 48-year-old farmer mourned corn bent by wind, as if in prayer, after Fran destroyed about $100,000 of his crop.

Floyd demolished a 65-year-old family home. Its 86-year-old widowed matriarch cried over the sanctuary where she birthed seven of her eight children. That was in 1999. I cried with her.

Storms are also a part of my family history. Mama told me about my great granddaddy, Herbert Gilmore, when I was a little girl. He was a successful farmer until a storm destroyed all the labor completed by his talented, leathered, ebony hands. The pernicious storm, its name unknown to us, tumbled his Holly Hill, South Carolina, home and killed all of his livestock in 1929. The storm's subsequent flood defeated an otherwise strong man, who suffered a heart attack and died.

As I write this, news outlets are reporting that hundreds of thousands of people are without power in the Carolinas. People and animals are still in need of rescuing. The death toll may grow. Flooding is expected to continue in the Carolinas as rivers rise and are yet to crest. Folks in Conway, only 14 miles from me, are maneuvering amid floodwaters from the Waccamaw River.

I faced no such terror on Monday. While driving back home, the sun pushed aside gray clouds as it warmed my face. Merely shallow waters, not deep waters, covered parts of US 17 in Pawleys Island as I got closer to Myrtle Beach. When I got out of my car, I climbed 32 steps and found my home intact. I looked around from my balcony and saw my community was basically unscathed.

I am thankful because my prayer was answered.

Still, I can't be blasé about storms of any kind. Wisdom demands that of me. This year's hurricane season doesn't end until November 30. More watery wolves may be on the way. That's why I am so glad I am rooted in faith.

It's where I place my trust whenever a storm is raging. And lately, that's been often.

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