SUMMERTON S.C.(WACH)- There are lots of jokes about how crazy South Carolinians get when there is a threat of snow.
The anecdotes about how everybody runs to their local grocery store and buys up all of the bread and milk and the entire state shuts down and how the local TV stations go to 24 hour coverage and the tradition of shivering reporters standing live on a highway overpass where a DOT sand truck is passing by scattering sand on the roadway.
Forty years ago this month, the threat of real snow was not just a threat: it happened!
The blizzard of 1973 came roaring in on Feb. 9 and didn't let up until Feb. 10. An estimated two feet fell on Clarendon County, South Carolina. Sherry Stewart, a Summerton native, was traveling home from the University of South Carolina in Columbia, when she got the news from her mother that a blizzard was about to hit.
"We were going by the best guess of our Columbia based weather folks. They were still predicting SNOW. We still expected it would stop. It did not...it snowed. Big, fat, flakes! The wind picked up. We watched the snow until dark, we turned on the flood lights in the backyard and watched the snow. We could not take our eyes off of it. We watched it so much, we could close our eyes and still see the flakes! We finally went to sleep only to wake up to a landscape we had never seen!" Stewart said.
Stewart continued, "The cold wind blew through us like knives. We, joined by some of our neighbors and friends, struggled against the snow and wind down to the end of our street where there was a guest house owned by the nearby motel. They were stranded on I-95, just outside of town, and were rescued by local farmers on tractors. The rescued, who were not from around here, came out of the guest house and inquired as to when the "road plows" would be clearing the roads. To which I replied, "there are no road plows, or snow clearing equipment. This is Summerton, SC in Clarendon Co, SC, it does not snow here!" They expressed some disappointment. We also told them, as it was still snowing and the snow was already a foot and a half deep, that they would be here for a while and if they needed anything, we would be glad to help."
Summerton on the I-95 corridor of South Carolina, is a very small town of 1,000 people. The town had very little in the way of snow removing equipment, for when snow did happen it was usually only a dusting that melted away by noon. The town was noted as a halfway point between New York and Miami and had several motels with owners willing to help stranded tourists.
Local farmers and loggers lent their heavy equipment to help folks stranded in the snow.
"There were 18 wheelers, cars, etc stranded on I-95. Farmers were recuing people off of the interstate. Shelters were opened at local schools. The people of Summerton were taking people into their homes. Families were stranded. The roads in the county were impassable, especially the back roads in this rural county. The National Guard was activated." Stewart said.
Stewart, whom at the time was a nursing student, got her trial by fire when a call came to her home. A woman was going into labor!
"About 10-11 pm, someone called from the Summerton Town Hall. They asked me if I was a nurse. I told them a student nurse. They asked if they could take me about 3-4 miles out of town to sit with a young woman who was in labor. She was stranded in her home. With the weather, there was no way to move her. I asked where the "real" nurses and doctors were. They were covering the hospital, shelters and they explained I was the best available. I had just completed my OB rotation in school, which really did not qualify me, but since our community was small and we had only 6 doctors in (all of Clarendon) County at that time, I guess I was it. So, I volunteered. My transportation at midnight was a large farm tractor. The snow had stopped. I bundled myself in insulated and thermal garments usually relegated to cold duck hunting mornings. The farmer came by our house, I climbed aboard, and road through 2 feet of snow to the small home our side of town. It was surreal. I had only seen snow like that on TV! The sweet young wife was in early labor with her first child. I did my best to make her comfortable. She became more uncomfortable as dawn broke," Stewart said.
The mother and child were taken to Clarendon Memorial Hospital 10 miles from Summerton, in the town of Manning.
The snow melted decades ago, but the experience is forever frozen in the minds of folks who went through the experience. After graduation, Stewart began a long nursing career at Clarendon Memorial, where she had a reunion with someone who shared her experiece a few years later.
"The woman with whom I sat all night when she was expecting her baby had a healthy little girl. She asked me back to meet her. The other mother with whom I rode in the 4w drive Jeep to Clarendon Memorial reminded me of that trip several years later when she was in the hospital to have her second child and I was her "real" nurse then. A remarkable coincidence."