CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – While this year’s Atlantic hurricane season has been mostly quiet, with only seven named storms as we enter peak season, we look to the past for a reminder that it only takes one storm to make it a truly bad hurricane season.
That storm – Hurricane Hugo – left its mark on the South Carolina coastline 33 years ago. It’s still a topic of conversation for those who lived through the storm and its aftermath.
Hugo formed near the Cape Verde Islands on September 9, 1989. Strengthening over time, Hugo would be upgraded to a strong Category 5 hurricane as it trekked across the Atlantic but wavered in intensity as it moved near Guadeloupe, St. Croix and Puerto Rico.
Still powerful in nature, the storm caused widespread damage and claimed several lives as it passed through the islands before later setting its eye on the Lowcountry.
The storm was heading this way. Leaders knew they had to evacuate the coast in order to save lives. Powerful voices boomed from the Charleston County Emergency Preparedness Center – it was time to move.
South Carolina’s governor Carroll Campbell declared a State of Emergency as the storm approached and emergency officials knew they had to do whatever it took to make citizens heed their warnings. This storm was serious and dangerous.
For many, that chilling message from then-councilwoman Linda Lombard still rings clear in their minds today.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Charleston County is now under a state of emergency,” said Linda Lombard from the Emergency Operations Center,” urging residents to heed warning and take this powerful storm seriously.” It is anticipated that Hurricane Hugo will be in the Charleston area earlier than first reported.”
She continued her message. “Gale force winds are predicted by 3:00 p.m. tomorrow, Thursday, making weather conditions and travel conditions very dangerous. It is imperative that all residents are Charleston County leave as soon as possible.”
The powerful Category 4 storm packed 140 mph sustained winds and 160 mph gusts as it made landfall just north of Charleston during the night of September 21st, 1989.
At daylight, those who stayed behind emerged from their homes to see destruction. Homes were destroyed, debris littered yards and roadways. Trees were felled, roofs lifted off buildings.
The sound of Hugo’s howling winds would be exchanged for the chewing grind of chainsaws.
Hugo produced widespread wind damage and storm surge along with the coast, with Charleston at the center of the worst damage.
The storm caused $7 billion in damage in the United States and Puerto Rico. At the time it was the costliest hurricane in U.S. history.
Nearly 80,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and the estimated loss of timber surpassed $1 billion.
While South Carolina has been impacted by hurricanes and tropical systems over the years, Hugo was the last major hurricane to make landfall in the state.