Red Cross worker recalls Hugo damage

September 8, 2009 

Red Cross worker Margot Hillman, left, explains services available to Sarah Wesley, whose home was damaged by Hugo.

FILE PHOTO/THE STATE

Margot Hillman arrived in Santee three weeks after Hurricane Hugo blew through.

She was living in Bethlehem, Pa., working as a computer specialist for the Lehigh Valley chapter of the American Red Cross. Between Hugo and the Northern California earthquake that hit less than a month later, the Red Cross was stretched thin. So Hillman headed south, to inland South Carolina, to the service center in Orangeburg County. Hillman spent three weeks in South Carolina, working on a team of volunteer caseworkers who verified damage reports and made sure the storm victims’ emergency needs were met.

“The storm damage was pretty impressive. I was glad I was in the second wave. The waterlines were back in play, and we got to eat things prepared in water, as opposed to the early volunteers. And the main roads were open by the time I got there.

“The interesting thing about being inland, the damage was much more erratic than it was on the coast. It was as much tornado damage as hurricane damage. ... We’d find pockets of three or four houses. They were the only thing within a mile that had been affected.

(Hillman was photographed by The State in 1989 talking to 74-year-old Berkeley County resident Sarah Wesley, who was standing on the porch of her home. Pine trees around her house had been snapped in half.)

“I remember that house. It was deep in the woods. No one knew exactly where it was. ... I do remember her (Sarah Wesley). She was extremely self-reliant and very nice. She had lost one wall of her house, but her family had rebuilt it by the time we got there. She was in the same shape she’d been in before the storm. I went inside, and it was a neat and tidy house. I asked her about her plumbing, and she didn’t have any.”

“I remember another client who ... had some damage and the Red Cross had helped her. She said to me, ‘You know, they come around at work and ask for donations for the United Way and I’ve never given. I’m always going to give now.”

— Megan Sexton

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