Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

August 27, 2011

‘Amazing, terrifying’: Residents recall Hugo

BLUEFIELD — As the East Coast prepares for the onslaught of Hurricane Irene, local residents recall a similar hurricane that managed to ravage as far inland as the two Virginias.

 Though Irene is expected to barely miss the area, the reports of Irene bring back memories of mid-September 1989 when Hurricane Hugo ripped through southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia. The category-five hurricane caused school closures, power outages and damaged property throughout the region.

Karen DeHaan and Debbie Maynard with the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce were the only employees working at the chamber the day the storm hit.

“We were at work and all of the signs downtown were blowing,” DeHaan said. “I had to pick up my children since they let the schools out and I remember seeing the trees and power lines were down while I was driving. I cried the whole way home because of how much damage it had caused.”

DeHaan said her family sought refuge at her mother’s home.

“It was very scary,” DeHaan said. “We had to spend the night with my mother because we had no power at the house. We had around 36 inches of rain and lost a beautiful cherry tree that had been in our yard. The whole area just looked like a huge disaster.”

Maynard said the two of them were told to leave the office when the storm began to hit.

“The president of the chamber, at that time, called us to tell us what was happening,” Maynard said. “There were a whole bunch of trees that had just been planted downtown and one big tree that looked like it was going to come right into the office. The phone lines were out at the chamber because they were still tied to the power lines at that point.”

According to Maynard, the drive down U.S. Route 460 from Bluefield to Princeton was unnerving as the storm approached.

“They let the schools out early, so there were buses trying to get the kids home as the storm was hitting,” Maynard said. “Driving home, I could see trees uprooted completely from people’s yards and power lines down. The wind and the rain were so fierce. It took so long just to get from Bluefield to Princeton because of how bad it was.”

Craig Hammond, executive director of the Bluefield Union Mission, said it took a while for the city to clean up from the after effects of the storm.

“I remember the storm very clearly, almost as if it happened yesterday,” Hammond said. “I remember the large trees that were uprooted all over Bluefield. They had some 100-year-old trees in the Oakvale area that were uprooted. It hit that area pretty hard. I was on the city board at the time and I remember that was the most amount of overtime the city public works department has ever put in to clean up from any catastrophe. The public works department were on duty around the clock unclogging sewer drains, cutting trees and making repairs.”

Hammond said volunteers with the Union Mission also worked some overtime.

“The Union Mission stayed busy because of the power outages in the area,” he said. “We were moving out the elderly and sick to safe places. I never thought that a hurricane could hit that far inland. It was both amazing and terrifying.”

— Contact Kate Coil at

kcoil@bdtonline.com

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