Williamsburg County chief of staff remembers Hugo, offers advice for Florence

September 13, 2018

KINGSTREE, S.C. – Williamsburg County resident Carolyn McCottry said she remembers the night Hurricane Hugo hit the state as being very, very dark. It was 1989 and she worked for Farmers Telephone Company.

The temperature was very hot in Kingstree during that time, much like it has been this week as South Carolina prepares for Hurricane Florence, McCottry said.

The day Hurricane Matthew hit, McCottry said, she remembers having to back up the computer system at Farmers Telephone Company before leaving to go home.

“By the time I got home, the wind was high,” McCottry said. “I drove home and it had gotten dark and the wind was high. It was also in September. We had about 10 pine trees around my house and all of them fell. But no tree fell in our house.”

McCottry said she remembers hearing night popping noises that night and sounds similar to that of a chainsaw. All of these sounds, she said, turned out to be wind and trees falling.

“We were blessed that we didn’t have any damage to the house,” McCottry said. “We were out of electricity for a month because of living in the country.”

Hurricane Hugo did not bring as much rain as Hurricane Matthew in 2016, but it did bring the high winds, McCottry said.

“Hugo really cleared out the woods,” she said.

If McCottry could redo her Hurricane Hugo experience, she said, she would have left Kingstree and gone somewhere else. The experience was scary, she said.

“It was a blessing that it came at night,” McCottry said. “If that stuff would’ve come in the daytime, I think a lot of lives would’ve been lost.”

Communities in 1989 were more united, McCottry recalls, but emergency management efforts were not as organized.

“You’d see families cooking out, they’re feeding everybody (after Hugo),” she said. “Some people still had the old hand-pump water, and that’s where a lot of communities got their water from because we weren’t buying water because we lived in a modern home where there was running water. But a lot of people still kept their pump water.”

McCottry said she also experienced hurricanes Floyd and Hazel decades ago.

“That generation of people are gone,” McCottry said. “So there’s a generation of people now that’s never been through these storms until we started having then like the Carolina Flood, the Pax (winter storm) and stuff like that. We’ve seen about it, but it never hit Williamsburg County. So they don’t know how the impact of it is until you experience it.”

People did not prepare for Hugo as they have prepared for recent hurricanes, McCottry said.

“We didn’t have the technology that you have now. So the only thing you had was the TV, radio, of course,” McCottry said. “Even though we heard it on the news, people didn’t think it would be bad.”

After Hugo, people realized storms could be deadly, she said.

McCottry now works as the chief of staff for Williamsburg County Emergency Management. The agency helps citizens help themselves by providing information and sending notifications through social media, among other things, she said.

McCottry encourages people who are preparing for Hurricane Florence this week to get generators if they can afford one. Have batteries handy, water and other nonperishable necessities.

“Yes, everybody went shopping and got food (during Hurricane Hugo), but I think they got perishable food just as much as they got nonperishable food,” McCottry said. “But now it’s an emphasis on nonperishable food.”

The Williamsburg County Emergency Management division is constantly updating its Facebook page with hurricane-related information for residents. Stay up to date on county information by visiting the Williamsburg County Emergency Management/E-911 page on Facebook.