The pine straw was deep and soft under my feet, and I had to step carefully over the rotten logs on the forest floor. I was carrying a bag of corn on my shoulder, down a narrow shooting lane, that extended out into the shady woods from a nearby stand. The timber here is mature - big pines with a heavy understory of hardwoods.
The rotten logs that littered the ground under these trees are what I call "Hugo Logs." They were blown down twenty eight years ago during one of the most destructive storms of our life time.
The big pines broke off a third or half the way up, and the hardwoods tipped over during the howling winds of the storm. The smaller trees were able to bend and many survived, if they weren't broken up by the bigger trees falling on them. The woods were a jungle of impenetrable thickets far a long time. The smaller trees that did survive are mature now, but not as big as they will eventually get.
Everybody has heard the stories of destruction and damage from Hurricane Hugo, but many of you were too young to remember, and others of you were not even born yet. Our homes and businesses have been rebuilt, and our farms and forest have recovered since that time.
I remember when the power came back on in my neighborhood, and the surrounding rural areas, 10 days after the storm. I was surprised that you could see lights at night in the distance - that had never been visible before. I think it was then that I realized just how profound the changes to the landscape would be. "It'll never look the same in my lifetime" I lamented.
It doesn't look the same, but the landscapes have recovered rather nicely in their own way. Hurricanes have shaped our world for eons, and will continue to do so.
The wildlife must have suffered horribly during that storm, but they too have bounced back. They have evolved and adapted to the cycle of these storms since the beginning of time.
I was born in Manning in 1954, the same year that Hurricane Hazel struck the upper coast, near the border of South Carolina and North Carolina. I remember my parents talking about Hazel. Then Hurricane Gracie made landfall near St. Helena Island in October of 1959. My Dad's construction company went to Edisto Island to help with the rebuilding. I was only five years old, but I can remember during a visit there that all the trees were blown down, and the houses were heavily damaged. All we got here was rain and a few trees down.
Over the years we had some near misses from other storms, but no real damage. So, when Hurricane Hugo approached, I thought, like a lot of other people, "no big deal, it might skirt on by, or even if it hits us, we won't get much damage this far inland." Boy was I wrong. And so was everybody else.
Hugo had intensified and sped up. It pushed inland as a category 4 storm with winds over 160 miles an hour. Even as far inland as Shaw Air Force Base, winds were clocked at 109 miles per hour. The storm was still a category 1 hurricane at Charlotte, NC.
The damage to the forest in a 23 county area of South Carolina was estimated at more than a billion dollars. Approximately 4.5 million acres of woodland was damaged by the winds and waters of the storm. In six counties, including Sumter and Clarendon, more than 90 percent of the timberland was damaged. Only a small percentage of the damaged forest was salvaged.
We find ourselves now on the eve of another powerful storm approaching. It is too early to know it's impact as I write these words. But, don't let the near misses from recent storms lull you into a sense of indifference.
Unfortunately, hurricanes are a natural part of our ecosystem. They occur infrequently and unpredictably. Just remember, the next hurricane could be just as destructive as Hugo. We will endure, and the landscapes will recover, but it might never look the same.