Weather News

Billion-dollar rampage: Daybreak brings worst fear to light throughout SC

Hurricane Hugo devastated the South Carolina coastline and inland communities on September 21st and 22nd 1989. A television sits quietly on a sandbar no the Intracoastal Waterway.
Hurricane Hugo devastated the South Carolina coastline and inland communities on September 21st and 22nd 1989. A television sits quietly on a sandbar no the Intracoastal Waterway. 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 story first appeared in The State newspaper Sept. 23, 1989.

Damage estimates topped $3 billion Friday as Hurricane Hugo’s trail of death and destruction unfolded.

“Everything on the beachfront from Charleston harbor to North Carolina is heavily damaged,” state emergency center spokesman Brian Ellison said.

Charleston alone accounted for more than $1 billion of estimated losses, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. said.

Those were guesses. The magnitude of destruction, cost of reconstruction, loss of personal history and stress of mass displacement were immeasurable.

Storm victims and officialdom alike could not comprehend Hugo’s rage: Whole islands trashed, the majority of homes and businesses uninhabitable. Condominium towers stripped of balconies. Historic sites and structures defaced by wind and sea. Piers reduced to neat rows of pilings trotting seaward. Boats stacked like toys, up to six high, in marshes and creeks. Marinas and docks missing. Landscapes forever altered. Dunes on highways. Swimming pools in the surf.

South Carolina’s luck had run out.

It was too much to grasp. No coalition of public officials could assess the cost. It was a job for days, weeks, not hours.

What was known mocked reports of multiple disasters:

At least 12 deaths were charged to Hugo in the Carolinas, sometimes without explanation. An elderly Charleston man was found dead in the rubble of his home; a Richland County man died when a tree fell on his car in Eastover; a migrant worker was found dead in a tree in Clarendon County; a 9-year-old girl died in a house fire in Horry County; a body found beneath a mobile home in Orangeburg County; and a 6-month-old baby died when a tree fell on a house in Union County, N.C.

Berkeley County reported three people dead; York County, 1 confirmed dead and 1 unconfirmed; Lee County, 1 dead; and Sumter County, 1.

President Bush declared the state a disaster area, and parts of Charlotte absorbed a 90-mph lashing from the northbound storm. Seven counties -- Berkeley, Charleston, Dorchester, Georgetown, Horry, Orangeburg and Sumter -- are eligible for government rebuilding loans. More counties may be named later.

At least 500,000 homes and businesses were without power in South Carolina, with 200,000 more reported in Charlotte. The full extent of outages was unknown. Some South Carolina communities 100 miles inland could remain without power for up to a week. It is the worst blackout in South Carolina Electric & Gas Co.’s history. Santee-Cooper, the state-owned public service authority, lost power to all 85,000 of its customers, including 15 cooperatives it serves. Full restoration of its service could take two weeks.

More than 50,000 people sought cover at 225 Red Cross shelters in the Midlands and Lowcountry.

Untold remains of buildings, boats, homes and uprooted trees were strewn along the coast from Charleston to Myrtle Beach -- and beyond.

Up to 2,500 National Guardsmen patrolled streets to quell looting in Charleston, a 6 p.m. curfew was declared for stricken coastal communities, and state highway troopers blocked roads to all who could not produce proof of residency or property ownership.

Charleston was flooded by up to 17 feet of water driven by 135-mph winds. Nobody’s sure of the exact numbers; the wind and water gauges broke long before peak fury. Furniture floated. Appliances took to the streets, odd boats on still odder streets turned rivers. Communications collapsed when the emergency command center, housed at City Hall, lost its roof. Unconfirmed reports had 30 unspecified buildings collapsed, and hundreds of homes severely damaged. Broken gas lines burned as the waters retreated. The 11th floor of Dockside condominiums on the Cooper River peeled open, exposing an undisturbed chandelier and dining room table. Absurdity. Insanity. By Friday nightfall, the only certainty was that nothing was certain.

Eighty percent of homes at Folly Beach were destroyed, and landmarks vanished. The Atlantic House restaurant, survivor of so many past storms, collapsed. Roads were stripped bare of pavement. Beachfront homes were peeled open and flattened.

The Ben Sawyer Bridge from Mount Pleasant to Sullivans Island stood on end, cutting off traffic to the mainland. Beachfront homes were destroyed.

The Breach Inlet Bridge from Sullivans Island to the Isle of Palms was impassable. Both islands had been submerged, lost at sea for a night, unrecognizable by day.

Sixty homes at Isle of Palms were destroyed; 22 more were substantially damaged; the pier washed away.

Boats at Wild Dunes Marina were driven across the Intracoastal Waterway to Goat Island.

Furnishings from homes cracked open by waves washed inland along roadways at Georgetown.

Only the strongest steel and concrete structures stood at Garden City Beach in Horry County. Up to 90 percent of the homes were ruined. “It’s just totally destroyed,” said Horry County Administrator M. L. Love. “There is no front row. There’s some pilings sticking up, that’s about it.”

At Pawleys Island 14 beachfront homes were reported destroyed. At least two houses were washed from their foundations. A 19th-century beach house known as the Summer Academy tilted toward the ocean.

A 40-foot-long sailboat moored in the Sampit River came to rest in an alley beside the Rice Museum. Another sailboat sank, its mast visible above water by the River Room restaurant.

Cars were stacked five-high outside the Lincoln School shelter in McClellanville. People there were stranded by floodwaters. When Gov. Carroll Campbell’s helicopter passed overhead, they waved their hands overhead in a distress signal. It was the first notice of their plight.

Georgetown Landing and Belle Isle Marinas were destroyed.

The Grand Strand lost its piers, and Capt. Dick’s Marina at Murrells Inlet was destroyed. Up to 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled in the inlet.

Myrtle Beach dunes were leveled, leaving cracked hotel pools on plains by the sea. Long sections of Ocean Boulevard was covered in sand. At the southern end, mobile homes rested in the middle of Ocean Boulevard near the Springmaid Pier. The pier lost all but 150 feet of its length.

The roller coaster at Grand Strand Amusement Park was intact, but the merry-go-round had gone away.

From reports by Michael Sponhour and Charles Pope at Charleston; Steve Smith at Sullivans Island; Holly Gatling at Georgetown; Bobby Bryant and Bill Robinson at Garden City Beach; Pat Butler, Richard Greer, Bob Kudelka, Gil Thelen, Lesia J. Shannon, Sammy Fretwell and Lineta Pritchard at Myrtle Beach; and Cindi Ross, Warren Bolton and Clark Surratt in Columbia.