Mayor still stands by her decisions

Former Isle of Palms Mayor Carmen Bunch

Carmen Bunch was 69 when, as mayor of the Isle of Palms, she kept worried residents from seeing their homes for several days until authorities verified their identity and cleared the island for safety hazards.

In the months that followed, people posted "Impeach Carmen" signs, cursed her in public and, as her daughter recalls, slashed her tires. In the years that followed, she suffered major medical problems.

Talking about it now, at 89, she still gets riled.

She turns from a soft-spoken elderly woman to that Yankee transplant who didn't give a rip.

Tan, bright-eyed and well-dressed, she pulls out a scrapbook 5 inches thick documenting those times.

"They were very upset," she said. "People worry about their things. They don't worry about their lives."

When a few families refused to evacuate under gubernatorial order prior to the storm, Bunch recalled from her days in the Navy that a captain does not abandon ship. As Hugo drew closer, she had to seek shelter and eventually called in police to help her extract the stubborn residents.

"Just like they have to obey my laws, I have to obey state laws," she remembered. "I was very unpopular at the time, but it didn't matter. We all have a boss."

Bunch traveled in the last car to make it over the Ben Sawyer Bridge before its iconic twist into destruction. When residents were allowed back onto the island, they first had to stop by the Holiday Inn, where engineers posted on a bulletin board what each family was coming home to, perhaps water damage and perhaps nothing.

Bunch spent seven months living out of the Lutheran Coastal Retreat Center during her own home repairs.

"It was a terrible thing," she said. "But we didn't lose any lives."

Bunch said she wouldn't change any of her decisions despite the backlash. She said the Wild Dunes community would not allow her inside its gates immediately following the storm, claiming its rights as a private community.

And then, with the a slight smile, she added, "Of course, I was the first person they asked to speak after Hugo."