Weather News

Up close, Hugo’s destruction is even worse

The State

More from the series

Hurricane Hugo coverage from The State: Sept. 17 - Sept. 24, 1989

Read more stories from The State’s original reporting of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. From Hugo’s collision with the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico to its catastrophic landfall near Charleston, The State kept readers up-to-date with vital news about the event that turned into the worst storm South Carolina has ever seen.

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Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The State newspaper on Sept. 24, 1989.

The closer everyone looked, the more horrible the picture became.

As each hour passed on Saturday, the wrath of Hurricane Hugo seemed greater: Houses that, from the air, had seemed unscathed appeared irreparable up close; cities and towns and counties far from the shore suffered as much as some coastal towns.

So great is the disaster -- now being called the most devastating in the state’s history -- that it will be days, weeks or months before the total cost is known.

Some losses can never be counted.

Proud Charlestonians must endure the presence of more than 2,500 rifle- toting National Guardsmen sent in to discourage looting in the Holy City. Gov. Carroll Campbell said Saturday that the Charleston area, where a 7 p.m. curfew is being enforced with M-16s and nearly 90 people have been charged with looting, is “just short of martial law.”

Estimates of the time to repair the damage in seven coastal counties -- guessed to be more than $3 billion by the few who venture to guess -- begin at a year and extend to forever.

“This is the worst disaster in the history of South Carolina, period,” said Campbell, who toured the coast Friday and the Pee Dee Saturday. “I saw Hazel when I was a kid on the coast -- we got the back end of that. And Hurricane Gracie -- it can’t touch this.”

Hugo, which left 27 to 29 people dead in the Caribbean, was blamed for at least 13 deaths in South Carolina, four in North Carolina and two in Virginia.

Campbell, who spoke to reporters in front of a pile of tin and metal that used to be the roof of the Florence County Airport, said he believes the death toll will climb as more information comes in.

“Everyone thinks this was a coastal storm,” he said in an interview. “This was a monster that cut a swath up through the middle of the state all the way to Greenville-Spartanburg. This was awesome.”

On the coast, biologists with chain saws and state wildlife agents in all- terrain vehicles searched islands on Saturday for victims.

“So far we haven’t found anybody,” said John Evans, spokesman for the state Department of Wildlife and Marine Resources. But “we are finding tremendous structural damage, trees down, roads gone. Once they get in, they have to walk.”

Aerial pictures of the barrier islands are deceptive, Evans said.

“Our foot soldiers say what you see from the air is not what’s down here,” he said. “Structures that appear to be still standing are 90 percent damaged inside.”

About 125 wildlife officers -- concentrating on Sullivans Island, the Isle of Palms, Pawley’s Island and the Intracoastal Waterway -- poked through rubble and standing structures for signs of life Saturday. They used boats to carry their golf cart-like vehicles and equipment to the islands.

“Our main mission right now is search-and-rescue, but we’re also getting gasoline and supplies to these people making this foray,” Evans said.

Agents also watched the waterways.

“We’re patrolling to keep other boats from coming in, to prevent looting,” Evans said. “We’ve had to turn some away, mostly sightseers. There’s a lot of curiosity.”

Wildlife agents found looters early Saturday in McClellanville, Evans said, but no details were available because radio communication with officers has been poor due to damaged equipment.

National Guardsmen and local police charged 50 people with looting in Mount Pleasant, 12 in North Charleston and 27 in Charleston. One person was arrested in Charleston and charged with violating the 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew.

“It was very quiet last night,” Charleston police Sgt. Thomas Gardner said Saturday. “I left at 1 a.m., and the only thing I saw were police cars and National Guardsmen.”

Two people from New Orleans were posing as relief workers and then taking people’s possessions, Gardner said. They were arrested, but had not been charged as of Saturday morning.

“We feel the city is secure,” Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said.

But neither Charleston nor any other part of the ravaged coast was anywhere near normal. On the second day after the storm struck:

Mel Schneider, a public assistance officer with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, dismissed all damage estimates as a lot of guesswork on the part of officials. “Obviously, we have a disaster situation, but it’s difficult to put a dollar figure on it,” he said. He said FEMA should have an estimate this week “as to what our program needs are, such as what it’s going to cost to clean up debris and fix the roads.”

Greenville native Jesse Jackson defied officials’ requests to stay out of Charleston, heading South to “assess the damage and to see the new homelessness this will create,” said Joseph Johnson, executive director of the National Rainbow Coalition. He said Hugo should draw much-needed money into poorer neighborhoods, which were hit hard.

50,000 people remained in 225 emergency shelters across the state.

The American Red Cross imported 150 volunteers from all over the country and sent them to work throughout the state. They’re taking with them 11 mobile kitchens -- to Georgetown, Charleston, Horry, Berkeley, Clarendon and Sumter counties -- which carry enough supplies to feed 3,000 people a day.

As many as 500,000 people remained without power statewide, including 450,000 in the Charleston area. Coastal officials, including Charleston Mayor Riley, showed increasing signs of impatience with S.C. Electric & Gas Co. officials, who have said it could take up to a month to restore electricity.

While powerless Columbians lined up for ice that was scarce to non- existent, Charlestonians waited in blocklong lines to receive basic rations from the Red Cross. The Salvation Army, which has distributed enough food to fill four tractor-trailers, was already running out of food Saturday.

Residents of the Isle of Palms and Sullivans Island, among the hardest- hit barrier islands, were kept from even inspecting their homes because the Ben Sawyer swing bridge -- the only link to the mainland -- was still out. If anyone tried to reach the islands by water, authorities said, he would be arrested.

Fort Sumter, the first Union stronghold fired upon by the Confederacy at the beginning of the Civil War, sustained $1 million worth of damage when a 17-foot wall of water roared over it, federal officials said.

Freshman state Rep. Ken Corbett, R-Myrtle Beach, asked Campbell to call a special session of the Legislature so lawmakers could oversee disaster relief and revise the state’s new Beachfront Management Act, which he opposes.

Campbell spokesman Tucker Eskew said it was too early to say whether a special session was in order, but he said that nothing was being ruled out.

Acting state forester Jack Gould declared a Forest Disaster on Saturday after preliminary reports indicated extensive timber damage in Berkeley, Clarendon, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Kershaw, Lee, Sumter and Williamsburg counties. The Forester’s Council will review damage and recommend action to salvage damaged timber within a week.