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The first hurricane story I ever heard was about Hugo. I had recently moved to the Lowcountry when local historian and author Suzannah Smith Miles invited me to her Old Mount Pleasant home on a September afternoon to discuss a story assignment. As a newbie to the East Coast, I admitted to her that I was a bit anxious about the possibility of a big storm and asked the native Charlestonian for advice. “If there’s a hurricane coming, Category 3 or up, get out!” she said. “Don’t wait for mandatory evacuations. Board up your house, pack yourself and your dog in the car, and head inland. Do yourself a favor and put together a plan. You’ll thank me later.”

That’s when Suzannah relayed her Hugo story. Having experienced two other hurricanes in her lifetime, she was wavering on whether to leave and waited too long to evacuate. “By the time I had made up my mind,” she said, “it was too late.” Suzannah rode out the Category 4 hurricane (meaning “major,” with wind speeds between 130 and 156 mph) in that little wooden house where we sat, and her tales of the eerie copper-hued pre-storm sky, the drop in barometric pressure, and the sounds of trees being uprooted and a neighbor’s tin roof peeling off were terrifying. “I was terrified,” she told me. “It was the longest night of my life, and I will never do it again.”

Since that September afternoon, I’ve heard many Hugo stories; everyone who lived here then, whether they evacuated or not, has something to share. And it’s important to listen, especially for those of us who are new (or newish) to the area. As this month marks the 25th anniversary of that monumental storm, I asked Suzannah to tell her story and those of other locals who experienced that terrifying night, the almost unbelievable destruction, and the many months of cleanup and rebuilding that followed. If you’re a hurricane greenhorn like me, I hope you’ll read our cover story, “Remembering Hugo”, and the next time a big storm heads our way, heed Suzannah’s advice: Have a plan and get out early. And if you were here for Hugo, please share your story and photos at charlestonmag.com/Hugo.

Darcy Shankland
dshankland@charlestonmag.com

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