Hurricane Hugo

Storm took property and hope from poor

National Weather Service

More from the series

Hurricane Hugo coverage from The State: Sept. 17 - Sept. 24, 1989

Read more stories from The State’s original reporting of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. From Hugo’s collision with the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico to its catastrophic landfall near Charleston, The State kept readers up-to-date with vital news about the event that turned into the worst storm South Carolina has ever seen.

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Editor’s Note: This story first ran in The State newspaper Sept. 24, 1989.

From the window of a neighbor’s home, Voncil Samuel of Dovesville watched as Hurricane Hugo, like a merciless giant discovering a toy, picked up her mobile home and smashed it to the ground.

“It was just a few seconds, and everything was gone,” Mrs. Samuel said Saturday.

Her voice was still shaking from the experience of early Friday morning. “I got into it (the mobile home) yesterday, and everything was broken up. It pulled the cabinets out of the wall, and the bathtub and sink were pulled out. The bed went through the window.

“It just demolished everything. My clothes went out the window. I’m trying to see if I can save some of them, but I don’t know. . . . I lost everything I have,” she said. “I don’t even know what to do. I don’t have a home or nowhere to stay. I’m just staying from one person to another.”

Mrs. Samuel, a 42-year-old diabetic with heart problems, was like hundreds of other mobile home residents who were left homeless by Hugo. Many of them had little to lose, but they lost it all as the hurricane left the coast and swept inland through the state’s poorer counties.

Tucker Eskew, spokesman for Gov. Carroll Campbell, said, “The governor just called in after helicoptering over Lee County, and he sees considerable destruction there, particularly in mobile homes.”

Matt Dillon, jailer at the Lee County Sheriff’s Department, described the city of Bishopville.

“It looks like a little village in Vietnam where F-4’s made a strafing run down Main Street,” he said.

“The Presbyterian Church, a beautiful building with stone walls, is extremely damaged. Some of the roofs from stores on Main Street were lying in the street. They’ve been pushed to one side now.”

“We don’t have all the roads cleared in the rural areas where trees are down. Practically every road sign in the county is gone, including on the interstate. Debris from mobile homes is scattered across the highways.”

Lee County authorities reported a man was crushed to death in his mobile home. No other details were available.

In Darlington, Jean Pelletier, secretary of the Red Cross chapter, was on the phone all day, taking requests for help. “It’s been mostly people saying, ‘My mobile home was destroyed and I need help.’ “

Help was on the way from Red Cross personnel arriving from other states. “We are expecting them any minute now,” Mrs. Pelletier said.

But for many people like Voncile Samuel, help was only a vague hope amid despair.

“I don’t ever know how I’m going to get a place to stay because I don’t have the money or clothes or anything now,” she said.

She was laid off from her job as cashier and cook at a small store in Society Hill in April, and her only income since then had been the small amount she received as a foster mother. Her last check came Tuesday -- $90 for keeping a child for three weeks.

“I just been living on what I saved up, and they brought me five babies at one time, and I took my money to buy clothes for those babies. . . . I just try to make ends meet.”

As Hugo approached her home early Friday, she fled to a neighbor’s home to wait it out, and it was from there that she watched as her home became a shambles.

“I don’t know how long it will take me to get over it because everything I ever owned, I lost it.”