Weather News

Midlands may see storm eye

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 22, 1989

Winds up to 80 mph are expected to whip Columbia today as Hurricane Hugo does his worst, and the eye of the storm was expected to pass directly over the capital city.

The worst winds were expected before and after the calm eye of the storm.

Hugo at his least severe is expected to mean sustained winds of 40 to 50 mph, which should last most of today, the National Weather Service said.

Meteorologists said late Thursday the storm was headed straight for Columbia after hitting shore at Charleston.

The Midlands was braced for flooding, high winds and possible twisters. The weather service said winds of 50 mph, gusting to 80, and heavy rain would sweep into the Columbia area between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m.

Tornado and flash flood warnings were in effect with twisters remaining possible through Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.

The Weather Service said inland impact hinged on Hugo’s choice of beaches. A port of entry further north would have lessened the punch at South Carolina’s middle, Meteorologist Jim Lowe said.

While Hugo was still at sea, the surest sign of its approach was heavy traffic. On Interstate 26, all four eastbound lanes from Charleston were jammed by late afternoon Thursday as coastal residents fled inland.

”They’re moving 15 miles an hour, inching along, and it looks like all the evacuees are coming into Columbia,” said Carol Berry at the Richland County Disaster Preparedness Agency.

By 4 p.m., most hotels and motels in the capital city were filled, and the closest vacancies for travelers appeared to be in Charlotte, 88 miles away, the emergency spokeswoman said.

Churches, schools, park gymnasiums, the National Guard armory and the Carolina Coliseum were turned into shelters by evening.

Ms. Berry said hundreds of people were expected to crowd into those facilities to wait out the storm. “We have no way of knowing how many to expect,” she said. “We’re preparing for hundreds.”

About 60 patients from the Charleston Veterans Administration Medical Center were transported throughout the day to the Dorn Veterans Hospital in Columbia. The patients came in ambulances and Air Force medical buses, hospital spokesman Jim Hawk said.

At the disaster agencies and at Columbia City Hall, telephones stayed busy. A worker in the Columbia city manager’s office said the city had set up four telephone lines and the phones were “ringing off the hooks” by midafternoon.

Grocery store parking lots and checkout lines clogged in the scramble for emergency supplies.

At Eastover Lumber Co. and stores like it, there was a run on oil lamps, lanterns and batteries, Rep. James Faber, D-Richland, the store’s owner, said.

Those items were sold out by early afternoon, and roofing nails were selling as well as residents tried to secure their roofs. Emergency candles were sold out in most stores and customers were buying scented tapers instead.

South Carolina Electric & Gas. Co. spokesman Robin Montgomery said the utility expected no major problems at Lake Murray because the lake level was down 5.7 feet Thursday. But Lexington County law enforcement authorities stood alert to handle possible damage at the lake if winds whipped recreational equipment airborne.

Montgomery said SCE&G crews were on standby for anticipated power outages, which could be massive.

Midlands police agencies checked emergency generators, which can provide power to radio dispatchers, jails and gas pumps.

The Highway Patrol kept about 400 troopers in the Midlands to handle traffic and weather problems, but Maj. A.T. Morris said, “We sent an awful lot of people to the coast.”

Lexington County Sheriff James R. Metts put all staff on call to deal with emergencies, and Richland County Sheriff Allen Sloan announced a contingency plan to help citizens cope if telephones and electricity are out today.

If needed, patrol cars will be parked at strategic points to help people get emergency medical service or other types of help.

Officers were to be at the following places:

Boozer Shopping Center on Broad River Road

Piney Grove and Broad River roads

U.S. 21 and Wilkes Road

Farrow Road at Killian Road

Blythewood Elementary School

U.S. 321 and Mason Road

Monticello Road and Winyah Drive

Bluff Road at Carolina Stadium

Gadsden Post Office on Highway 48

Sumter Highway at the Horrell Hill intersection

Lower Richland High School

The National Guard mobilized 1,800 of its men to assist evacuation and deal with storm damage, 1st Lt. Les Carroll, public affairs officer for the state adjutant general, said.

The S.C. Army and Air National Guard sent aircraft to inland bases to protect them from possible damage from the storm.

Small towns did what they could in the hours before the storm. Swansea Town Clerk Lucius Martin taped windows on the town hall.

Contributing to this report were Charlie Paschal, Jeff Miller, Steve Smith, Loretta Neal, Jennifer Nicholson, Mike Kozma, Warren Bolton, Diane Lore and Carol Farrington