Hurricane Hugo: 30 Years Later – The storm’s impact on Dorchester County

Hurricane Hugo

DORCHESTER COUNTY, SC (WCBD) – As we approach the 30th anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which impacted the Lowcountry in a major way back in September of 1989, we’re looking back over the next several months to bring you stories about the storm.

Doty Park is where President George H. W. Bush landed to start his tour of the damage in Summerville and Dorchester County after Hurricane Hugo moved through the area.

Even this far inland, county officials said the damage was very severe and they’ve come a long way since the storm.

“Dorchester County was not prepared. None of us were,” said former Dorchester County Emergency Management Director, Ken Harrell. “We were a very small government; the population was half of what it is now.”

Harrell had only been working for three months before Hurricane Hugo made landfall in the Lowcountry. He had no emergency management training… the department was only made up of him and one another staff member. They weren’t expecting the storm to impact the county as much as it did.

“Hurricane Hugo was the first storm to demonstrate that hurricanes can have disastrous effects much further inland than the coast,” he said.

The weak side of the eye skirted the Summerville area but it still brought winds with gusts over 110 miles per hour. That lead to tree damage and lots of it.

“Just about every major road was blocked by many trees and downed power poles,” said Harrell.

Five people were killed in the county, about 100 homes were destroyed and 5,000 structures were damaged. President George H. W. Bush came with Mayor Berlin G Myers, Governor Campbell and other leaders to see the devastation first hand.

“The President came in within a first few days and that helped bring in some attention to the area,” he called.

Another prominent official in the county, Sheriff L.C. Knight, lived there during Hugo. But during the storm was stationed in Charleston when he was working for the State Law Enforcement Division. He said it was very difficult to get around because of the number of trees that were down.

“While I was in Charleston I was in touch with the people in Dorchester County and tried to help them all we could,” he said. “You had truckloads of supplies coming in.”

“The next morning, the time the storm cleared, we were ready to hit the road but you just couldn’t. Several of our cars and Highway Patrol cars were damaged from flying debris.”

But today, current Emergency Management Director Mario Formisano says things have changed a lot since Hugo and thinks they’re much better prepared for the next storm.

“There has been a significant evolution since 1989 and a maturity within the Emergency Management Community,” he said. “The way we prepare the public is much different now with the evolution of social media.”

The county encourages residents to get ready for whenever another storm like Hugo moves through. You can learn a lot more about how to get prepared by visiting m the Dorchester County website and searching for emergency management.

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