Weather News

Life’s drama unfolds in face of Hurricane Hugo

A group of 16 guests gathered at the McClellanville home of Myrthis and Gerald Thibodeau after Hugo destroyed their homes.
A group of 16 guests gathered at the McClellanville home of Myrthis and Gerald Thibodeau after Hugo destroyed their homes.

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.

Expand All

Editor’s Note: This story originally published in The State newspaper Sept. 22, 1989.

It was a 600-mile-wide bullet with our name on it, and as Hurricane Hugo stalked South Carolina, everybody was worried -- only the details were different.

“I don’t expect my house to be standing (Friday),” Beaufort County social worker Tim Austin said. “I live 200 yards off the ocean on Fripp Island. It was already flooding on the island this morning.”

There were as many different stories as there were people in the path of the storm. Here are a few of them:

On a wing and a prayer

Annette Patch of Beaufort had another kind of anxiety.

“My husband doesn’t know where I am or what’s going on,” said Mrs. Patch, who is six months pregnant. “He’s flying a plane loaded with ammunition from California to here for the Marines. They haven’t been able to get a message to him for me. I hope he’s all right.”

All together now

Survival was the main concern for Kathy Peters, one of a family of 23 who huddled in a Beaufort High School shelter.

“My sisters and children are here,” she said. “We have medicine and blankets and friends. There is nothing else we really need.”

A devastating departure

When Columbia businessman Van Newman drove away from his front-row home at Fripp Island Thursday morning, he had a sick feeling.

“We practically cleaned out our house, so if it goes, we’ve at least saved our personal belongings,” he said. “It was pretty devastating leaving that house, knowing that it may be the last time we ever use it. It’s like you’re losing a friend.”

Taking it seriously

At midafternoon, Beaufort Rep. Harriet Keyserling and her husband, Dr. Herbert Keyserling, were rolling up rugs and stashing them on countertops, and hoping their home would survive Hugo.

“A lot of the women and children are leaving town,” she said. “Policemen were going around with loudspeakers, saying, ‘You have to go to the shelters.’ They’re panicking everybody to make them take it seriously -- which is good.”

Pictures to remember

Finding shelter wasn’t easy for Louise Skolfield, who lives about a block and a half from the threatening ocean at North Myrtle Beach. It took Ms. Skolfield more than four hours to drive from her home to a shelter in Conway, 25 miles away.

“I did take a few pictures before I left so I’d have something to remember my home by if it’s not there when I get back.”

Frigidaires in the trees

In Conway, 75-year-old David Stocks recalled other storms he’s seen -- including Hurricane Hazel, the grandmother of them all, as far as South Carolina is concerned.

“There were Frigidaires in the trees,” he said.

Here we go again

Alex Gonzalez was playing with his band on Edisto Island when he and his friends were told to go to safer ground. So he headed home to Myrtle Beach -- only to learn that Myrtle Beach was expected to bear the brunt of the storm. He and his wife, Jo Anne, had survived at least four hurricanes -- and so had their mobile home.

“When it happens, you say, ‘Why am I here?’ “ Mrs. Gonzalez said. “We could be in California -- but then we’d be worried about earthquakes.”

Stocking up for the siege

As far away as Columbia, Hugo fever was whipped by news reports, and storm essentials were almost impossible to find. By 1 p.m. Thursday, the Radio Shack store in Five Points had sold $2,200 in radios, batteries and flashlights.

At a Food Lion nearby, employees got store manager Purvis Dooley out of bed Thursday morning to help with the Hugo onslaught.

“It’s been like this since 8:30 this morning and it hasn’t let up,” Dooley said. “I haven’t even had lunch. I’ve had 15 people in here today saying they were getting extra food for friends who came up from Charleston.”

Surf’s up -- REALLY up

Like everybody else, Fairfield Rep. Tim Wilkes was concerned about Hugo and what it could do to his beach house. But that didn’t stop Wilkes from driving to Cherry Grove Beach to surf in the 12- to 14-foot waves generated by the approaching hurricane.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to surf a hurricane,” Wilkes said. “I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

Wilkes surfed for three hours, until the police chased him away.

“I wanted to be able to tell my grandchildren that I surfed Hugo,” he said.

Ravenel unconcerned

U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel Jr. of Charleston was thinking along the same lines: Hugo, once-in-a-lifetime challenge. Ravenel left Washington a day early to barricade himself in his harbor-front home in Mount Pleasant.

“I’m just not nervous about it,” the Republican congressman said. “I hope it doesn’t come. But if it does, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I’d like to see it. So, I’m going to stay right here and keep a diary.”

Ravenel’s wife wasn’t as excited about staying there as her husband, though.

“We’re right on the harbor,” Mrs. Ravenel said. “But Arthur doesn’t seem to think we need to board up. He’s a Lowcountry boy. So I guess he knows what he’s talking about.”

Hollings more cautious

Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, whose half-million-dollar Isle of Palms home is right on the ocean, got prepared for the hurricane two days early.

“We had everything boarded up as of 1 p.m. (Wednesday),” he said. “We’re just hoping and praying.”

Help from the Upstate

Hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst, Gov. Carroll Campbell called in 25 fully staffed and equipped ambulances from the Greenville- Spartanburg area to help with relief efforts on the coast.

Charleston off the air

In Charleston, only on television station was still on the air at 9 p.m., and L.C. Derrick said he was concerned.

“They’re not giving coordinates any more, that has me worried,” said Derrick, a professional photograhper who was trying to track Hugo from his home in North Charleston.

Hospitality, Coliseum style

As 280 people settled in USC’s Carolina Coliseum, with three busloads of students from the College of Charleston due to arrive any minute, an announcement came over the loudspeaker: cots would be given only to women “very much with child, the elderly and injured people.”

That didn’t bother 4-year-old Mike Welch, who allowed as how it would be “kinda neat” to sleep on a basketball court.

What, no phone?

While others may worry about losing boats and homes, one Charleston girl fretted about her phone.

Donica Davis, 13, worried about her stereo and cat as she bunked down in Columbia. “But, I’m really upset about my phone. I finally got one, and now I’m going to lose it.”

Staff writers Charles Pope, Beverly Shelley, Thom Fladung, Pat Butler, Lee Bandy, Diane Lore, Margaret O’Shea and Bob Stuart and special correspondent Frank Heflin contributed to this report.