Hugo's 'crazy' winds still spin in survivors' memory

sfretwell@thestate.comSeptember 20, 2009 

The majestic live oak tree in Tracy Collins' backyard crashed to the ground, shaking her family's house from the force of Hurricane Hugo.

It was difficult for the youngster to imagine the wind could blow that hard. As a 9-year-old, she watched the storm from her family's front porch in 1989 but scurried inside when the tree blew down.

"That was a huge oak tree," said Collins, now 29, who lived in Andrews, near Georgetown, at the time of the storm. "I used to play under that tree, and I had a tire swing. But it just fell, right away."

Twenty years after Hurricane Hugo, wind is the thing folks like Collins most remember - and they ought to.

Hugo's maximum sustained wind speed, at just over 135 mph, is the highest on record for a hurricane in South Carolina, according to the state Climatology Office. Wind speeds varied, depending on the location, but they were noticeable most everywhere as the storm roared inland toward Charlotte.

Sustained winds of 85 mph and gusts of 107 mph rocked Folly Beach near Charleston; sustained winds of 79 mph blasted Georgetown, just a few miles down the road from Collins' childhood home. Shaw Air Force Base at Sumter recorded wind gusts of 109 mph, according to the National Weather Service. Even Columbia - in the center of South Carolina - had sustained winds of 53 mph and gusts of nearly 100 mph.

The highest wind speeds ever recorded in a hurricane nationally occurred in 1969. That's when Hurricane Camille slammed into the Gulf Coast with winds of 190 mph and gusts of 200 mph, according to the National Weather Service. In 2005, sustained winds of 140 mph were recorded during Hurricane Katrina, the devastating storm that rocked New Orleans and the Mississippi coast.

Another S.C. hurricane, Hazel in 1954, had sustained winds of 106 mph upon landfall in northern Horry County, according to state climatology office data.

For Tracy Collins, Hugo's impact on her family's yard is something to remember.

"It was crazy," she said. "You don't forget it."

Reach Fretwell at (803) 771-8537.

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