State 125

Hurricane Hugo, an unforgettable storm

Hurricane Hugo swept over Ocean Drive on the Isle of Palms, a coastal barrier island near Charleston, leaving a ravaged aftermath scene.
Hurricane Hugo swept over Ocean Drive on the Isle of Palms, a coastal barrier island near Charleston, leaving a ravaged aftermath scene. File photo/Tim Dominick/The State

Hurricane Hugo rushed ashore near midnight on Sept. 21-22, 1989, carrying a blow so staggering the mammoth storm still generates talk 27 years later.

Beach houses splintered. Hotels flooded. Power lines fell. Sewage pipes broke. Bridges washed out. And coastal roads disappeared under tons of sand that washed in from the sea near Charleston and the southern Grand Strand.

In some spots, sections of entire coastal towns were flattened. Among them: Isle of Palms, Garden City and Pawleys Island.

"We are like a bunch of ants beneath the feet of a giant," Gov. Carroll Campbell told The State, as he assessed the power of the storm.

But Hugo didn’t stop there.

The storm, which caused coastal storm surges 15 to 20 feet above normal, plowed through central South Carolina with howling winds unlike many people had ever seen. The highest wind speed recorded during Hugo was about 135 mp.

Hugo ripped holes in mobile homes and snapped in half entire forests of pine trees, many in the Sumter area. And it continued on through the interior of South Carolina, before crossing the state line at Charlotte. Cleaning up the mess took months.

Ultimately Hugo caused $7 billion in damage after coming ashore in South Carolina. More than two dozen people from the Caribbean to the Carolinas died as a result of Hugo. More than 26,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged. After the storm, it wasn’t uncommon to see people waiting for help at disaster relief centers.

Unlike some hurricanes, Hugo took a direct path toward South Carolina after hitting Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. It came ashore near Bull’s Bay in Charleston County.

Sammy Fretwell

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