Channel 2 meteorologist Rob Fowler gave hourly updates on the progress of the storm, including this report the afternoon of Thursday, September 21, 1989, just hours before Hugo made landfall. Fowler described hurricane-force winds extending 140 miles out from the center.
Many businesses and residents prepared by boarding up properties,
sometimes spray-painting messages to the hurricane.
Beth and Joe Kolb of Sullivan’s Island packing to evacuate
During a press conference the night before Hugo landed, Charleston County Council chair Linda Lombard (pictured at center)—who continuously repeated the directive “Leave! Leave now!”—informed residents that Charleston County was under a state of emergency and that Hugo would arrive earlier than first predicted. Mayor Riley (pictured far left) said, “There will be more flooding as a result of this storm than any Charlestonian has ever experienced...take this remaining window of opportunity to evacuate.”
Live 5 weatherman the late Charlie Hall (at left) and news anchor Bill Sharpe continued reporting from their downtown studio until management forced them to evacuate. In recalling that time, Sharpe says, “Charlie was dreading what was coming, and you could hear it in his voice and see it in his face. But by sharing these fears, he may have saved lives.”
On Thursday at noon, Isle of Palms mayor Carmen Bunch reported that 75 percent of the island had been evacuated. “We might find one or two that have refused to leave,” she told News 2, “We’re taking down their names and those of their next of kin and letting them know that we warned them to get off. If they don’t want to go—other than carrying them out and handcuffing them—we can’t force them.”
“If we did anything right, we got people out. We saved lives.”—Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr.
Local television and radio stations broadcast nonstop with evacuation instructions. Charleston County Council chair Linda Lombard was on camera constantly, shouting the message: “LEAVE! Leave NOW!” Heavy wave action with eight- to 10-foot swells buffeted the Folly Beach coastline
bumper-to-bumper traffic on the interstate as people evacuated inland
The South Carolina National Guard military police were on hand to protect businesses from looters.
“If you have not evacuated yet, don’t try. It’s too late. The storm is almost on us. Get to high ground if you can. And may God bless your soul.” —Charlie Hall
The South Carolina National Guard was put on standby two days prior to the storm so they would be ready to help clear roads for emergency and repair crews and set up checkpoints, such as this one at King and Calhoun streets.
This NOAA radar image documented the eye of Hugo on Charleston’s coastline and 135-mph winds at midnight.
In 1989, when Hurricane Hugo struck, the Charleston Tri-County area had a combined population of just more than a half-million people.
Last year, the estimated population was 712,220 and will be nearly 850,000 by 2020—sobering numbers in terms of emergency preparedness and the need to evacuate when faced with another deadly storm.
Before the storm, McClellanville residents who were unable to evacuate and seeking a safe refuge were directed to the shelter at Lincoln High School (pictured post Hugo).
Although an evacuation study completed in 1987 designated the school’s elevation at about 20 feet, it was “actually closer to 10 feet above sea level,” according to a U.S. Department of Commerce/NOAA/National Weather Service report. “The actual storm surge was later measured to be about 16 feet at Lincoln High School.”
HUGO Tide Heights: Bulls Bay: 19.8 feet Isle of Palms: 15 feet Sullivan’s Island: 13 feet Folly Beach: 11.9 feet Charleston: 10.4 feet
An Associated Press article stated “23,000 people crowded 121 shelters throughout the state.... Hotels were full as far as 270 miles inland.”
James Simons Elementary
Approximately 700 rode out the storm at Gaillard Auditorium
Others went to area schools
This mother escaped with her child to a motel in North Charleston, where she was interviewed by WCBD News 2 during the eye.
The peninsula didn’t escape the wrath of Hugo. Wind gusts at the Custom House were clocked at 108 mph, and nearly 11 feet of tidal surge washed through the area. The results included felled trees and power lines; damage to roofs and buildings; and boats tossed inland, such as this motor cruiser on Lockwood Boulevard
35 deaths in S.C. were related to Hugo, including people who were drowned, crushed by homes and by trees, and in post-storm house fires.
A swamped Colonial Lake looking west down Ashley Avenue
“Everybody was hugging, grinning, even laughing.... We were standing in waist-deep water, but we had survived.” —Jennings Austin, then principal of Lincoln High School
More views of the destruction downtown, including the Market littered with mud and crumpled metal debris from buildings
A massive crane toppled at the port
A sign in Mount Pleasant showed a return to business, not quite as usual.
Downtown, a bakery owner, attempting to check on his business, was given an update by one of the policemen stationed to prevent looting.
More destruction at the Market
News 2 reported on the damage to the shrimping town of McClellanville, including this flotilla of trawlers and boats piled up against a house.
The Marines shut the town down for a day so they could clear roads and check for victims.
Westvaco (now MeadWestvaco) used helicopters to survey its decimated timberland. According to the National Weather Service, Hugo felled more than one billion board feet of lumber in the Francis Marion National Forest, permanently ending logging operations there.
News 2 offered aerial shots of the area near Bulls Bay
There, 75 percent of the trees had been felled and the storm surge reached all the way to Highway 17, where a boat landed in the median
With boats and businesses piled atop each other, the economy of the shrimping village of McClellanville was shattered.
Just south of there near Awendaw, a woman attempted to gather what was left behind on her home’s foundation.
The storm surge wrecked homes in Awendaw...
...leaving many families with not much more than gratitude that they had evacuated.
Post Hugo, Live 5 News anchor Bill Sharpe was on air nonstop—except for sleeping—for 10 days, keeping residents informed from the station’s makeshift studio in Awendaw and then back downtown. “I never want to live through another Hugo again,” he says. “It was hell, pure hell.”
The iconic Atlantic House restaurant perched above the ocean the day before the hurricane
What was left the day after
Folly Beach was already facing erosion issues when Hugo hit. The Washout lived up to its name.
Damages on Goat Island
Damages on Sullivan's Island. The hurricane caused an estimated $7 billion in damages, with $2.56 billion in insurance losses in South Carolina alone.
Martial law was instated on Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms, and armed National Guardsmen prevented returning homeowners from accessing either island.
Tempers flared, and altercations and arrests ensued.
On Pawley’s Island, Dan Love waded out to his neighbor’s home, which had floated off its pilings. “All the pictures were still hanging, the china was in the cabinets—virtually nothing was broken,” he said.
The Sea Cabin condominiums on Isle of Palms suffered extensive damage.
People formed long lines at area stores a in hopes of getting the basic necessities and perhaps, if lucky, a generator.
A week after Hugo hit, nearly 60,000 people were homeless because 5,100 homes had been destroyed and 12,000 were uninhabitable.
Others queued up at the American Red Cross, which provided meals in numerous shelters and on mobile feeding routes for 30 days
News 2 reported that more than 100 looters were arrested in Charleston and neighboring counties the week after the storm. Dawn-to-dusk curfews and martial law enforced by the National Guard, SLED, State Highway Patrol, and the police kept looting in check.
With no power, gas station pumps couldn’t work, and locals were desperate for fuel. When word spread that one station in North Charleston was getting generators from Savannah, cars lined up for hours.“Just trying to get some gas,” said one woman to News 2. “I lost my home. I lost everything.” Everyone was in need.
This mother pleaded for diapers for her baby on the news.
On Vanderhorst Street, just the facade of an office building was left
Then: The National Weather Service (NWS) used a network of WSR-57 and WSR-74 radars—Weather Surveillance Radars—designed in 1957 and ’74 respectively. They offered reflectivity data but nothing in regards to wind speeds.
Now: NWS uses a network of Doppler radars—WSR-88D, or Weather Surveillance Radars designed in 1988 with Doppler—which can provide data on precipitation as well as wind speed and direction.
A truck convoy bearing clothes, food, dry ice, and more pulled into McClellanville. The volume of supplies flooding into the Lowcountry was overwhelming. The Army was called in to assist, and more than 200 soldiers helped organize items to be shipped to rural areas.
A California-based software company set up a computer database to better connect needs and supplies so that nothing would be wasted.
Mayor Riley rallied for recovery, including at a concert to bring the community together. His T-shirt reads, “Charleston, SC: We’re going strong.”
A NOAA inundation map shows what the storm surge over the peninsula and surrounding communities would have been—up to four feet higher in some areas—if Hugo had made landfall 20 miles south at Kiawah Island.
As Don Thompson’s home on Goat Island was set back onto its foundation, the telephone rang.
Like many other residents who went through the storm, Thompson has maintained a land line and kept his “Hugo phone” —just in case.
Two weeks after Hugo, Oprah Winfrey broadcast her popular daytime show from the King Street Palace theater, raising $1 million in funds and national awareness.
Frustrated with the federal government’s slow aid response—it took the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) a full week to open its first disaster center in South Carolina—Senator Fritz Hollings called FEMA “the sorriest bunch of bureaucratic jackasses I’ve ever worked with in my life” on the Senate floor. He later called for a federal investigation of the agency.
SCE&G reported that more than 75 percent of their systems were destroyed. Electrical crews—some 2,500 workers—from across the South arrived to help, working 16 hour days, seven days a week to restore power.