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Family Copes Without Power, Experiences Stress After Storm

October 1, 1989

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (AP) _ Kathy Troughton didn’t hit bottom until she saw a National Guardsman holding a rifle at her neighborhood grocery store five days after Hurricane Hugo hit.

Then she began to cry.

″That meant that we were really in trouble,″ she said.

Restricted to cold showers and limited lighting for more than a week until they got their power back Saturday night, the family of Ben and Kathy Troughton is like thousands of families coming to terms with the destruction Hurricane Hugo brought when it raged ashore with 135 mph winds Sept. 21.

The Troughtons are better off than many. While an estimated 50,000 residents in the Charleston area are still listed as displaced persons, the Troughtons have stayed in their home, a wood-frame, split-level in this suburb across the harbor.

Troughton’s job with a car rental agency was not washed away. During the more than a week they were without electricity, a generator powered a television and small lamp, and relatives brought in spaghetti, fried chicken and gas to cook with.

On Sunday, with power restored, Troughton said they ″almost feel livable again.″

But the rhythm of their lives changed. Days are filled with removing trees and scrubbing house, nights with uneasy sleep.

The Troughtons, both 36, and their oldest son, Scott, 15, are coping. Two younger boys were sent to relatives in Georgia until some normalcy returned. Troughton said Sunday they should be home in a day or so.

The storm began its destructive trip up the East Coast about two miles from the Troughtons’ home when it ripped through Sullivans Island and the Isle of Palms.

The family delayed departing until too late, in part over concern for their English bulldog, who wouldn’t be allowed in an emergency shelter.

By the time the eye of the storm passed around midnight, they knew they had made a mistake.

″I thought how foolish I was to have stayed with three kids through that. I was really angry with myself,″ Mrs. Troughton said.

Though the family lost 11 tall pines, including four that demolished their station wagon, Hugo left only a leaky roof and a torn corner on the house.

″I feel very lucky - very, very lucky,″ Scott said.

The first day after the storm was spent on the telephone with family and friends checking on their safety.

With power gone since the previous evening, food was in danger of spoiling. Mrs. Troughton used the barbecue grill, and about 50 hamburgers were cooked up and sent to neighbors.

Nightfall brought an eerie sense of danger, as a 7 p.m. curfew and no electricity turned the neighborhood into a tomb.

″At night around here, it’s almost scary,″ she said. ″At night, there are so few cars moving that when one does, it’s like, ‘What’s going on?’. ... It’s almost like being in a war zone.″

They received their first shipment of supplies from relatives Saturday, two days after Hugo hit: food and butane gas to set up the stove in the garage. By then they were also housing four friends to help remove trees, and another waiting to return to his home on the Isle of Palms.

On Sunday, Mrs. Troughton realized she missed going to church only when she saw a neighbor heading that way. ″I’m still confused about what day it is,″ she said a week after the storm.

Sunday brought more supplies from relatives as well as a painful decision: The two younger boys would be safer away from home.

″My 3-year-old was turning on the butane tank. ... My 11-year-old was out there with an ax cutting down trees,″ she said.

Monday brought soaking rains that drove everyone inside to powerless homes, making residents increasingly claustrophobic.

″You just feel so closed up in here,″ she said.

Some respite came when men from the neighborhood gathered in someone’s garage to watch ″Monday Night Football″ on a generator-powered television.

″People are living in the garages,″ Troughton said. ″They’re sitting and talking in the garage. They’re drinking in the garage. They’re playing cards in the garage. They’re swapping lies in the garage.″

Their physical possessions safe, the Troughtons counted their losses in convenience, togetherness and emotional security.

″You walk around and you try to smile and help and all,″ she said. ″And then you say, ’Forget it. I’m sick of being nice about this hurricane. ... I’m tired of being nice to people. No, you can’t have my eggs. No, you can’t have my gas.‴

The feeling lasted until Wednesday, when she committed herself to scrubbing the caked-on mud from the kitchen floor and sneaked into an apartment house laundry room to wash clothes. Scott got a chance to see his friends when the high school football team resumed practice, and the next day, Troughton returned to his job.

The old routine is still not back.

″I think probably it’s going to be like somebody’s ill. You might cruise through it pretty good, but then six months later ... you will think back and think how terrible it was,″ she said.

″In my wildest dreams, I could not imagine a hurricane doing this.″

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