Weather News

People fleeing Hugo find inns filled

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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Bishop T. Stoney of the Body of Christ Church of Deliverance in North Charleston looked through his sun roof at the clouds swirling above the Knights Inn in Cayce and lifted his hand to wave goodbye.

”I think I’ll try Augusta,” he said before maneuvering the gray sedan out of the parking lot.

Another two hours on the road and no guarantee of a room.

Stoney and his wife, Bertha, were two of thousands of coastal residents who came to Columbia Thursday looking for shelter, only to be turned away.

Shelters were being set up around the state in schools, some National Guard armories and Carolina Coliseum.

South Carolina hotels and motels were flooded with evacuees forced to leave their homes in anticipation of the destructive force of Hurricane Hugo as it marched toward South Carolina’s idyllic coast.

By midafternoon Thursday, hotels near interstates were booked. Some downtown hotels still had vacancies early Thursday evening but expected them to go quickly.

”We’re full, and we have people coming off the highways constantly. It’s a madhouse,” sales director Lisa Rosenblum of the Days Inn near Columbia Metropolitan Airport said at 11 a.m. “I’ve had at least 100 phone calls in the last hour from people asking us if we had any rooms left.”

“We quit taking reservations last night,” Knights Inn desk clerk Carolyn Morton said. “We have some people who made reservations for 6 p.m. If they aren’t here, we’re going to start giving their rooms away.”

In cities as far away as Aiken, Greenville and Charlotte, modern-day pilgrims were finding no room at the inns.

”Right now, it’s driving us nuts. Reservations are just pouring in,” Adam Sattar, owner of the Econo-Lodge in Greenville, said. “People are telling me there was nothing available anywhere on I-26. A lot of people, they didn’t even shave. They just took off.”

Kennels were brimming with uprooted pets. “I’m stretching a little” to put all the pets up, Marie Barnes of Cheatham Animal Clinic on Sumter Highway said. “If I have to, I’ll haul in some more cages.”

Cars edged up Interstate 26, the main highway from the Lowcountry. Eastbound lanes into Charleston were closed about noon as far as I-95. Traffic was like a roller coaster making its rickety ascent up the first major hill. But it was a dull ride for the travelers.

Gene Shanklin, a Marine corporal from Parris Island, said it took him more than five hours to make the drive that normally takes about three. He said he could have stayed in a shelter there but decided that his wife and 18-month- old son, Arthur, would be better off inland.

”I was going to drive home to West Virginia, but it takes too long,” said Shanklin, who was unable to find a room at the Knights Inn.

Barney Henderson of Mount Pleasant, who left for Columbia at 10 a.m., said it took an hour to drive 10 miles on I-26, so he got off the freeway and drove the back roads, which were nearly empty.

”It was like a Sunday afternoon,” he said.

Henderson and his family were lucky. They had friends, the John Peyre Scurry family of Columbia, who were willing to put them up until Hugo disappeared.

Those without friends and family, however, were left to search for shelter. Some said they were planning to drive to Asheville, N.C., or farther if that’s what it took.

Families who left the coast were traveling light, leaving most of their possessions behind and taking only those items they deemed irreplaceable: photographs, birth certificates, small family heirlooms.

”We spent more time last night just rearranging things we have in the house, putting things up off the floor so they wouldn’t get wet when the tides come up,” said Betty Dronen, whose home faces a tidal creek on Oak Island. She and her husband, Bill, made reservations early to stay at the Masters Inn on Knox Abbott Drive in Cayce.

”All I got is extra pants, a shirt, shoes and underwear,” Bishop Stoney said. “Just enough to stay over for a couple of days.”

Those lucky enough to find shelter seemed prepared to pass the time constructively. Ann Vieira of Hilton Head, whose family found a room at a hotel in Cayce, said she brought a bundle of magazines and newspapers from home to read, and she plans to take in the sites around Columbia.

”I want to go to the museum,” Mrs. Vieira said. “I might got to the zoo if it isn’t raining.”

Despite their frustrations, the evacuees seemed hopeful that the storm would leave their homes intact.

”You have to be a little positive,” Ann Vieira’s husband, Francisco, said.