Weather News

Campbell urges coastal residents to begin retreat

South Carolina Governor Carroll Campbell in a meeting at the State House on September 20, 1989 to begin preparations for a possible Hurricane Hugo landfall.
South Carolina Governor Carroll Campbell in a meeting at the State House on September 20, 1989 to begin preparations for a possible Hurricane Hugo landfall.

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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This story first appeared in The State on September 21, 1989.

Gov. Carroll Campbell declared a state of emergency Wednesday and was contemplating mandatory evacuations today as Hurricane Hugo bore down on the South Carolina coast.

In Charleston, Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. went on television to ask residents in low-lying areas or on barrier islands to leave Wednesday night if they could comfortably do so.

Bill McCauley, spokesman for the Charleston County Emergency Preparedness Department, said Beaufort and Dorchester counties were under states of emergency and urged residents to begin evacuating at 6 this morning.

The expected combination of high tides and saturated ground “is a fairly bad scenario for us,” said Charles Clark, Charleston County’s emergency preparedness director.

He said the situation was all the more serious because the eye of Hugo is expected to pass south of Charleston, meaning the strong northern portion of the hurricane would directly hit Charleston.

Campbell, in making the emergency declaration, said, “We need to be cautious now. People that can ought to go ahead and prepare themselves. If they have somewhere to go inland, they ought to go.”

Campbell ordered the National Guard, the State Highway Patrol and the State Law Enforcement Division to “respond with manpower and resources when or if they are needed” to ensure an orderly retreat.

He instructed the state Department of Social Services, the American Red Cross and emergency preparedness officials to have shelters opened today in the state’s eight coastal counties.

The state Health and Human Services Finance Commission was told to help evacuate the elderly, the poor and others without transportation if required.

“The situation we’re looking at does not warrant panic. It warrants caution and prudence,” Campbell said.

He also recommended that residents of South Carolina’s 12 populated barrier islands seek higher ground.

“I’m not going to wait. I’d rather move too quickly and have people out than have to deal with it after the fact,” he said.

“People have gotten used to waiting for the last minute and saying, ‘This is not gonna happen.’ I would caution you that this sophisticated equipment we are watching tells us that it is tracking in our direction, not up the coast. It is tracking in our general direction,” he said.

“We can hope it’s going to turn; we can hope that it will diminish in force, but it hasn’t shown that. It has shown holding force, increasing its speed and maintaining its direction towards us.”

While Campbell wavered on the need for enforced evacuations, he issued a stark warning to those who would loot homes or businesses after the storm.

“If after the fact there is any evidence of looting in this state, . . . we will come down on those people that engage in that type of activity with every force that we can in South Carolina,” he said.

Mayors of all Charleston County cities met Wednesday night to discuss emergency preparations.

Charleston schools were closed today, and 15 schools were designated shelters and were expected to be open by 7 a.m. today.

Sheriff’s deputies and police were preparing to set up traffic control points this morning to ease an evacuation.

In Dorchester County, Summerville High School and Summerville Intermediate School have been designated shelters and more will be opened as needed.

If an evacuation is ordered, McCauley said, more than 175,000 people -- about half of the county’s population -- would be involved in the city’s largest exodus of modern times.

“We have never done something like this in 30 years,” McCauley said.

Emergency officials said they would need eight to 12 hours’ warning to successfully evacuate, but McCauley said Charleston County would require at least 24 hours because of the number of people involved.

The Navy began sending ships from the Charleston Navy Base to sea to ride out the storm and prevent damage at dockside, Petty Officer Traci Lytle said. All ships were expected to be at sea by today.

“Like the Boy Scouts, we’re prepared,” Navy Chief Petty Officer Art Riccio said.

Elsewhere along the coast, emergency preparedness officials reached a level of readiness unmatched since 1984, when Hurricane Diana threatened the coast.

“We’re watching and waiting,” said E.T. Harrison, emergency preparedness director for Horry County. “Some people are already leaving the area, but right now things are pretty calm.”

Staff writer Michael Sponhour contributed to this report.