Weather News

Campbell advocates hard line, looters warned of consequences

This motorist carried a message as they evacuated Myrtle Beach before the arrival of Hurricane Hugo.
This motorist carried a message as they evacuated Myrtle Beach before the arrival of Hurricane Hugo. Bryan Monroe/The Sun News

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.

Gov. Carroll Campbell took a militant stance against looting in preparation for Hurricane Hugo’s punch at South Carolina this morning.

”We’re going to come down on them like a ton of bricks,” the governor said of looters during one of several sessions he held Thursday with law enforcement and relief agency personnel.

The meeting was in the governor’s State House conference room, one of two state government command centers set up because of Hugo. In the basement of the Rutledge state office building two blocks away, much of the communications work of coordinating coastal evacuations and disseminating information was handled.

Campbell, who cleared his schedule Wednesday because of Hugo, said he intended to stay in his office all night Thursday to monitor the situation and do whatever needs to be done.

Early Thursday, Campbell had ordered 400 National Guard military police to the coast to help local law enforcement and other state officials keep order as the storm approached.

But by 10 p.m., a total of 1,300 National Guardsmen were on active duty, the military police officers being joined by troops engaged in disaster relief.

Campbell was especially concerned about Charleston, which he agreed to partially evacuate in talking with Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr.

”We’ve got to have a heavy law enforcement presence in that city,” Campbell said. “I want those uniforms seen all over that coast.”

Guardsmen sometimes don’t carry live ammunition in this kind of emergency work. But they will this time. State Law Enforcement Division Chief Robert Stewart said it would be advisable for guardsmen to be armed if they intend to assist local police with law enforcement.

Adjutant General T. Eston Marchant, who commands the National Guard and the state’s disaster preparedness agency, did not attend early meetings at the governor’s office Thursday, because he was returning from an out-of-state trip.

Campbell said he was concerned about looters at two times: during the evacuations and then after the storm had hit.

”I realize it costs money, but I’d rather have them (police) just standing there than anything else,” he said.

Besides the threat of looting, the governor and other officials also discussed a number of other hurricane-related problems at the meetings. Included were evacuation plans, shelter locations, water supplies and traffic control.

Outside the governor’s office, things looked mostly normal on Thursday; access was restricted, but it always is. Guards sat outside the doors at the Rutledge building center, admitting only officials manning the center.

Campbell has been meeting at intervals with representatives of every state law enforcement and public assistance agency to get weather updates and to discuss strategy, and many of the overall preparedness decisions came from the meetings.

Among others in the meetings with Campbell were top officials from SLED, the state highway department, National Guard, Department of Social Services, Red Cross, and wildlife department, along with the governor’s top staffers and state government’s own climatologist John Purvis.

Purvis spoke first at one of the sessions Thursday, giving his assessment of Hugo and its expected impact.

The water surge will “cover a considerable amount of the (Charleston) peninsula,” Purvis said to a room full of grim faces, including Campbell’s.

Purvis put forth a few prognostication parameters, but Campbell said: “Basically, we’re going to take a big hit no matter what, right?”

“Yes sir,” said Purvis.

The discussion got around to the evacuation centers needed by the thousands of people fleeing the coast.

”I think we can go ahead and close the schools on Friday,” Campbell said. “I’d rather err on the side of closing rather than take a chance.” Officials said later, however, that school closings were being made on a district-by-district basis.

Inside the Rutledge building nerve center there were a dozen or so civilian and uniformed government workers, some answering phones that were linked to wires hanging like high-tech cobwebs from the ceiling.

In the center of the room was a small computer screen with a dirt-brown outline of the southeastern United States and the blue of the Atlantic Ocean. On the screen, Hugo blinked an ominous turquoise as it bore down on South Carolina’s coast.

A giant white message board on one wall displayed military time and information about evacuation decisions, giving the people manning the phones consistent information to relay to others in the field.

Elsewhere in the basement, other rooms similarly equipped were staffed by representatives from state agencies such as the highway department, social services and the Red Cross.