South Carolina

Hugo didn’t just take their home. It took their youngest family member.

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Hugo: 30 years later

Three decades have passed since the killer storm, Hurricane Hugo, cut a path of destruction through South Carolina and beyond.

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Hurricane Hugo sounded like a freight train to 5-year-old Felisha Dukes.

Her mother screamed to be heard over its roar as it pounded the family’s mobile home in Mayesville, a Sumter County town.

“Come into my bedroom! Hurry!” yelled Addie Mae Davis to Dukes and her six other children in the early morning of Sept. 22, 1989.

All seven children piled on Davis’ bed. The home vibrated as the furniture danced around the room. The lights flickered out.

And then the monster storm descended, clawing at the home as the children screamed. Little Lamont Davis, just 13 months old and the youngest in the family, slipped off the bed and into the darkness.

The other children and Davis were couldn’t grab him in time. They too were being tossed around like rag dolls.

And then came stillness and silence. Hugo had moved on, trekking northward as it cut a 100-mile wide path of destruction through the state.

In the quiet darkness, the children cried and stretched out their arms, searching for one another in their wrecked home.

“We held onto each other,” Dukes, now 35, recently told The State. “That’s all we had. We had lost everything.”

Davis tried to round up her children and groped for a door, a window — any opening in the home that the family could squeeze through and escape. Buddy Davis, her husband and the children’s father, was out of state for his trucking job, leaving the family without its strongest member.

Hours passed. They were trapped.

As the children sobbed into each others’ shoulders, Davis consoled them with a steady hum of prayers.

“She just kept praying over and over for someone to hear us, to find us,” Dukes recently recalled.

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Felisha Dukes Submitted Felisha Dukes

One voice was missing from the chorus of whimpers.

Lamont’s. Where was the curly-haired baby, dressed in a light blue onesie?

“I remembered that he didn’t cry that night,” Davis later told The State in 1989. “We stayed in (the home) until that morning. We were stuck.”

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Lamont Davis, 13 months, was killed Sept. 22, 1989 as Hurricane Hugo destroyed his family’s Sumter County mobile home. Provided With permission from Felisha Dukes

Around daybreak, Davis managed to crack the glass in an exterior door and run for help. She and neighbors pulled the six children from the wreckage — and found Lamont’s body.

Dukes had been lying near him for hours. Unaware.

“He was a sweet, bubbly, little boy,” said Dukes who now works as the executive assistant to Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis. “He’d make you fall in love with him.”

In the 30 years since Hugo, the family has lost other members. Davis, the family’s rock, passed away in 2015 from cancer. Two of the family’s daughters are gone now, too.

Dukes mourns the loss of each — including the family’s baby, stolen by the storm.

“He would reach up his little hands. It was his sign that he wanted to be fed,” said Dukes, who is now married to a sheriff’s deputy and has two children of her own. One of them looks like Lamont.

She’s never returned to the mobile home site even though she still lives in Sumter County.

“I don’t know exactly why I haven’t,” she said. “Maybe I will one day. Maybe it would bring closure.”