The potential for snow in winter reminds me of the Blizzard of 1993; the one I will never forget and the only one I ever experienced. This storm covered a large swath of the Eastern United States. Look up Superstorm of 1993 for pictures
For less than a year my husband, Hank, had been the minister of a church in a small town south of Asheville, NC. The church building was a three-story, old brick structure, with a large downstairs kitchen, complete with a gas stove and recreation room. A soup kitchen and a church run thrift store were part of the ministry of the church to help the needy. Both had a fairly good supply of food and lots of clothes.
Come to the church now!
It was March 12 and I was sleeping after a 12 hour shift at the hospital the night before, when Hank called me about noon. It was snowing hard and the area was about to have a huge snow storm! “Pack what you can and come to the church now!” he said.
I gathered clothes and necessities for us all and joined my husband and son, Mike (then 9 years old who was with his father at the church).
I am not using “blizzard” to describe a light powdering of snow coming down heavily! I am describing long term, heavy, blinding, freezing snow. Blizzards were rare in this area on the east side of the Appalachian Mountains. Highway 26, which leads through Spartanburg, SC to Asheville, NC, was already so hazardous that people were unable to drive any further north than our little town. This blizzard made the national news and lasted three days!
Nowhere to go
The highway patrol called Hank to see if our church could house some 50-60 people marooned in a bus, which had slipped off the road and was partially in a ditch! Off my husband went in the church van to transport the victims to the largest place of refuge there, our church.
After the bus’s people had been rescued, many other travelers, (families, stranded college students) streamed into our church’s warmth. We ended up with 104 people.
Plenty of room for all.
EMS drivers brought us food from local restaurants, prepared that day for the customers who never showed up. We ate well that first day or so. Then things got a little more challenging
No electricity, no heat.
The electricity cut off just before dark that first night. Fortunately, there were candles and flash lights, which we placed in strategic places to help people find their way around the unfamiliar building.
That evening the temperature inside the building dropped into the 50’s. It took many coats and blankets from the church thrift store to keep people warm. Coats also doubled as pallets for beds. Since there was plenty of class rooms and areas, people could have some privacy and sleep for the night.
Everyone was pretty worn out from their stress and worry, not to mention, wondering, “What would happen next?”
Since we didn’t have cell phones in common use back then, (maybe not at all) our only source of information was a battery operated radio where we could keep up with the weather forecast and hear about the “outside world.” The snow was coming down so hard we couldn’t see the intersection or the road 50 yards away, even on the second day.
Hot Food and Water
Breakfast was prepared by some of us ladies by heating up the instant coffee and Swiss Miss Hot Chocolate, which we thankfully had plenty of, and some instant oatmeal or grits and I seem to remember eggs too. There were many canned goods that we could feed the people with, so at least no one went hungry.
I think it was the second day a mother, father and 2 young sons arrived at our church. They had been on the road all day and driven into the blizzard, not knowing how bad the roads would be. They did not stop for fear of getting stuck and freezing to death in their car! Directions to the bathrooms and hot chocolate were provided instantly!
Electricity: Heat On
After a quick call to the electric company explaining our unique situation the electric company cleared the wires to give us power and heat. While everyone was warm enough and fed, there were games they could play, lots of talk, and a large building that people could explore.
The snow stopped during the night. There was at least two to two and a half feet of snow on the ground, maybe even three in places. Everyone was starting to feel grumpy, bored and smelly. Since there had been no room in the van for luggage, no one had soap or shampoo or even clean clothes!
Fortunately I brought soap and shampoo from home! So using the provisions we had, my husband directed everyone to wash their hair in the large kitchen sinks downstairs with the shampoo. (Some even used dish detergent!) Then Hank filled the baptismal with two or so feet of cold water. Enough hot water was brought up from the gas stove to break the water’s chill! Two people could wash in the baptismal pool, separately of course, and then the water would be changed for the next people. With clothes from the store we were all clean and in better spirits by the day’s end.
I think it was the fourth day, one of our church members drove his Bobcat to the large intersection that the highway went through near one corner of the church lot and started clearing the snow. That day some major roads were cleared or melted enough for some people to start driving carefully.
We found out there were trees lying across almost every block of the city. Not just one or two but multiple trees needed clearing. The weight of the snow and ice toppled trees and broke off branches.
We were also saddened to hear that about 10 people had died in the higher elevations. They ran out of wood and sadly froze to death in their cabins or houses. This gave us an even stronger sense of thankfulness that we had made it to safety in time.
We decided to wait there one more day to be sure the roads were safe before leaving the safety of the church. By the fifth day everyone left and returned to their bus or car.
It turned out that the bus passengers were not happy with their bus driver. He had deserted them and taken the last bed in the only motel in town! He, of course, was reported by his passengers after a miserable drive to the station with a bunch of angry passengers!
Everyone was grateful to have had a safe, warm place in the storm with food and companionship. Later that year some people came back wearing t-shirts saying,”I survived the Blizzard of 93!”
It was amazing that things went so smoothly under the circumstances. It took another day before I could get back to work and have electricity at our house turned on.
These kinds of experiences foster a true appreciation for the small comforts in life like a warm bed, warm food, a hot shower and especially shelter in a snow storm.