A Little Slice of Heaven: A Small Church Finds Warmth and Inspiration in the Historic North Carolina Blizzard of 1992
Despite the record-breaking summer heat, a local minister’s wife recalls a historic Winter storm and the warmth found inside the church’s shelter.
The Blizzard of 1992 was the one I will never forget and the only one I ever experienced. My husband, Hank, had been the minister in a small town 30 miles south of Asheville, NC for less than a year. My husband’s church was a three-story, old brick building, with a large downstairs kitchen, complete with a gas stove and recreation room. There was a church run “Good Will” store attached to the church. The soup kitchen and good will store were there to help the needy and both had a fairly good supply of food and lots of clothes.
Shelter from the storm
Having worked at the hospital the night before I was sleeping soundly when Hank awoke me about noon with a phone call. He told me it was snowing hard and I needed come quickly to the church and bring some clothes for a few days. (Mike, our then 9-year-old son, was at the church with his dad already.) The snow it turned out was more of a blizzard. I am not using that term to describe snow coming down heavily; I am using this term as it was meant to be used. Highway 26 that leads from Spartanburg, SC to Asheville, NC was already so hazardous that people were unable to drive any further north than our little city.
The highway patrol had called Hank to see if our church could house some 50 or 60 people from a bus that had slipped off onto the side of the road.
Since the only motel was already full, they had nowhere to go. He agreed and took off in the church van to transport these poor souls to the largest place of refuge there, our church. After several trips and many other folks looking for refuge streaming in, we ended up with 104 people. There was plenty of room, even if we didn’t have beds. The EMS staff brought us food from local restaurants that had been prepared that day for the customers who never showed up; so we ate well that first day or so. Then things got a little more uncomfortable.
The electricity cut off just before dark. Fortunately, there were candles and some flash lights, which we placed in strategic places to help people find their way in the large building. With no electricity, we also had no heat. That evening the temperature dropped in the 50′s inside the building. We took, I have no idea, how many, coats and things from the good will store to keep people warm. Coats also doubled as pallets of sorts for beds. There were plenty of Sunday School class rooms and areas, where people bedded down for the night. Everyone was pretty worn out from their stress and worry, not to mention, wondering what would happen next! One woman had a seizure, she came through it unharmed. But we all were alive and had shelter, food and coats, lots of coats! We also thankfully had a large gas stove to heat food and water. Since we didn’t have cell phones in common use back then, (maye not at all) our only source of information was a battery operated radio where we listened to the forecast and heard about the “outside world.”
The snow was coming down so hard we couldn’t see the intersection or the road 50 feet away, even on the second day.
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 family (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 it was. (Blizzards were not a common thing in that area on the east side of the Appalachian Mountains, especially when the mountains usually block the heavier snow from reaching that region.) They had been afraid to stop for fear of getting stuck and freezing to death in their car. We fixed them up with bathrooms and hot chocolate instantly. I seem to remember we did get the heat back on after a quick call to the electric company explaining about our unique situation.
The blizzard peaks
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 third day, the snow had 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! Well, fortunately I had brought soap and shampoo from home, thankfully! So using the provisions we had, my husband directed everyone to wash their hair in the large kitchen sinks downstairs with the shampoo. (I think some even used dish detergent,) Then he filled the baptismal with two or so feet of cold water. Some 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. But 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 who owned a hardware store nearby, drove his Bobcat to the intersection in front of the church and started clearing the snow. That day some major roads got cleared or melted some.We found out later, there were trees lying across almost every block of the city. The weight of the snow or ice had made them fall. We decided to wait one more day to be sure the roads were safe.
I think it was the fifth day everyone left and returned to their bus or car. The bus passengers were not happy with their bus driver, who had some how, left them and taken the last bed in the motel! He, of course, was reported by some very angry people after a miserable ride with a bunch of angry folks!
Everyone was grateful to have had a safe place in the storm with food and companionship. Later that year some people came back wearing t-shirts saying, ”I survived the blizzard of 92.”
We were also saddened to hear of (I think I remember this correctly) about 6 or 8 people who had run out of logs and frozen to death in their cabins or houses. This gave us even more of a sense of thankfulness that we had made it to safety in time.
I always marvel at the way things went so smoothly under the circumstances. It took another day before I could get back to work and have electricity at our house. These kinds of experiences make you really appreciate the small things in life so much.