CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Monday marks 31 years since Hurricane Hugo devastated much of the South Carolina Lowcountry.
The storm 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 3pm tomorrow, Thursday, making weather conditions and travel conditions very dangerous. It is imperative that all residents are Charleston County leave as soon as possible.”
Packing 140 mph sustained winds and 160 mph gusts, the powerful Category 4 storm made landfall north of Charleston just after midnight bringing dangerous flooding and storm surge along with its fierce winds.
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.
Hurricane Hugo 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.