Living on the coast can often be an anxious waiting game during hurricane season. Looking at the current hurricane tracking map, it appears as though Hurricane Irene is headed for the Carolinas, reminiscent of Hurricane Hugo, which came ashore in 1989just north of Charleston, SC.
We were living on Hilton Head Island in 1989, so I remember well the anxiety of waiting for this massive storm as it bore down on the South Carolina coast.
During those days we were able to track the progress of hurricanes thanks to the maps on the side of the Winn Dixie grocery bags. (This was before the era of paper or plastic.)
I remember carefully plotting the coordinates of Hugo as it approached. With every update provided by weatherman Pat Prokop at WSAV TV in Savannah, we would put a dot on our map to chart the progress of the storm.
Hugo was forecast to make landfall on Thursday, and evacuation of Hilton Head began in earnest on the Wednesday before, because it was predicted to make landfall somewhere in the vicinity of Tybee Island GA or Hilton Head, or possibly enter at the mouth of the Savannah River and travel inland.
Living, as we did, in a ranch style house built on a concrete slab atop a berm of sand maybe two feet above sea level, we realized the damage that such a storm could do. It was clear that if Hugo struck just south of us that we would feel the full fury of the storm surge, which, if it had occurred at high tide, would likely have washed our house into the sound and all the way to Bluffton.
But we stayed all day Wednesday. In fact, First Baptist Church, where I served as associate pastor, and which is located almost on the beach on the south end of the island, conducted our mid-week prayer service per usual on that Wednesday evening. And, not only did we have a handful of hardy members in attendance, we also had a CBS 48 Hours film crew with us to document our service. As we stood in a circle and prayed for the Lord's protection and intervention, the cameras rolled.
Various persons prayed around our little circle. All at once, with eyes closed, I heard the unmistakable voice of my friend, Raymond "Catfish" Enslow, who prayed in his inimitable lowcountry baritone drawl; "Lord, you're the master of the winds and the waves, and we believe that you can redirect this storm if it's your will."
Now I'm a person of faith, and I believe, like Catfish, that God can and does intervene supernaturally, but I still went home and boarded up the house.
That next morning I loaded our family into our van and we joined the throng driving across the bridge to higher, or at least, more distant ground. We decided to go stay with our friends Gary and Wanda in Pritchardville, far enough inland and south to be safe, in our opinion.
As we settled in that evening, we decided we'd watch the CBS 48 Hours show to see how they had covered our prayer service. But, just before the program started, we lost power. Gary hurried out to their travel trailer parked out back, and came back in with a battery-powered portable television. We gathered around the tiny black and white tv like families used to gather around the radio to listen to Amos and Andy. Finally we saw the story of our prayer service, and there, for all America to hear, was Catfish praying that the would Lord redirect the storm.
A short time later the weatherman broke in to give an updated forecast. He reported that Hurricane Hugo had made a small shift in direction. As we plotted the coordinates, it was clear to us that Hugo had indeed turned north, and would quite possibly miss us but would likely hit in the Charleston area.
Indeed, late that night Hugo came ashore right in the Charleston area, with the "right hook" storm surge hitting the little fishing village of McCellanville with a force that tossed 60' fishing boats hundreds of feet up onto land and flooded the entire town.
Hugo then roared through the Francis Marion National Forest and all the way inland through Charlotte, where 90 mph winds blew out windows and toppled trees.
I've often wondered what might have happened but for the faithful prayer of my friend, Catfish.