My Hurricane Experience | Sullivan's Island Hurricane Hugo

Listen to Authorities About Sandy: My Hurricane Experience

Yes, this is the first non-customer service topic I have addressed since I launched Customers That Stick back in March of 2012. With superstorm Sandy approaching the Northeast, I thought perhaps I could do some good by relating my family’s experience with a hurricane. If it makes a difference to one person, it will be worth it. We will resume our normal content on Thursday.

I have lived a great deal of my life in hurricane prone areas. Growing up on the coast of the Carolinas and now residing in Florida, hurricane season keeps me with an ever watchful eye trained on the Atlantic.

My family went through Hurricane Hugo in Charleston, SC in 1989. I was at college just starting the school year when Hugo, a Category 4 storm, was threatening the coast. Here are my memories of the storm:

My Hurricane Experience | Sullivan's Island Hurricane Hugo

Sullivan’s Island, SC after Hurricane Hugo

  • I remember watching the news of the storm in the lobby of a hotel because the school year had just started and our television wasn’t hooked up yet.
  • I remember worrying all night as my parents rode out the storm in the hallway of my childhood home, with a grandfather whose mind was gone. The phones were down, and cell phones were still a few years from entering our lives.
  • Afterwards, I remember arguing with my mother about whether or not I should leave the University and bring them supplies. Charleston was cleaned out, and they had not been prepared. She kept insisting that I not make the trip, but she could not remember why she did not want me to.
  • I remember buying what I am still convinced was the last generator in Athens, GA.
  • I remember driving with a car so loaded with supplies that I could not see out of the back windows.
  • I remember the late-night approach into Charleston on I-26, the felled trees, the haunting dearth of other drivers on the road.
  • I remember the moment I realized why my mother did not want me to make the trip. Charleston was under martial law. There was a curfew and a roadblock on the Interstate. I was never going to make it into town. I kept driving anyway, and oddly, there was no roadblock.
  • I remember entering the city after midnight, and I wondered if this is what it would have looked like if the Soviets had ever launched. Trees were down wholesale, roofs removed, business signs twisted into grotesques shapes. The eeriness of entering a city with not a single other car on the road, not a light lit, is indescribable – at least by my meager pen. Only a few years out of high school, I thought of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish?”
  • I remember missing the turn to my friend’s house, a turn I had made hundreds of times, because the silhouette of the city was so disfigured as to be unrecognizable.
  • I remember running into very tense police officers. They shined a spotlight in my face, hands on their sidearms, and told me I could not go to my parent’s house. They said I had to go back to my friend’s house around the corner, which I had just left, or I was going to jail.
  • I remember speeding through the narrow sliver of cleared debris, adrenaline pumping, as I sped out of the other exit to the neighborhood, making a break for my parents house a few miles down the road.
  • I remember pulling into my neighborhood and seeing a car coming my way. The only other car I had seen in the city other than the police. It was my parents heading out to the Interstate to join me at the roadblock they assumed I had been stopped at. Incredibly fortuitous timing.
  • And finally, I remember more police because one of our neighbors had called about the noise in our backyard. It was us, not looters, unloading the supplies from my car.

I have many more memories of what I saw once the sun came up. A holiday break spent with a chain saw and felled trees.

But I hope my point is made: I have not only seen the damage a hurricane can do but more importantly have felt what the after effects are like. The videos on television do not do them justice.

As anyone who lives near the coast will tell you, the quandary of most hurricanes is that if you wait long enough to see if they are going to hit you, it is too late too leave. This is not the case with Sandy. Sandy is so big that many high population areas are going to be hit regardless of the last minute path.

Of course, each individual has to do what they feel is best in their unique situation. But if my experience can help you at all, then please listen to the authorities in your area, and if you are being asked to evacuate, do so.

For the record, my parents, who rode out Hugo in the hallway have said that they would never do it again.

Our thoughts here at CTS go out to everyone who is facing down this storm. Be safe out there.


By Adam Toporek. Adam Toporek is an internationally recognized customer service expert, keynote speaker, and workshop leader. He is the author of Be Your Customer's Hero: Real-World Tips & Techniques for the Service Front Lines (2015), as well as the founder of the popular Customers That Stick® blog and co-host of the Crack the Customer Code podcast.

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