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Tales of horror left by Hugo will be told and retold

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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 24, 1989.

It will take months, or even years, for the coast to recover physically from the ravages of Hugo, which left Charleston and other cities looking like nuclear war zones.

But the people who lived through it will never forget the killer storm. They will retell for years the fear of the winds, the horror of the sight of their destroyed homes and businesses.

And they will remember the way people around them reacted -- sometimes admirably, sometimes irresponsibly, always individually.

Breaking the news

The folks left at Surfside Beach have been trying to bring a bit of comfort to hundreds of homeowners who can’t make it to the beach to check out their property.

Town Councilman P.L. Mabry and other town officials and volunteers have been checking out property for people who call and giving them reports.

”It’s the right thing to do for people, if we can get around to it,” said Mabry, whose house was only slightly damaged.

Officials guess there’s between $5 million and $10 million worth of damage on the beach, although Mabry said only about 30 or 35 of the 1,600 or so houses and condos are totally destroyed.

”We try to break it as easy as possible,” he said. “It’s never an easy way of telling a person that their property has moved inland 300 feet. But I think anyone who buys property at the beach, they ought to have the idea that they’re willing to give it up sometime.”

Twice a victim

Hugo was doubly cruel to Louis Vick of Mount Pleasant, who owned two home decorating businesses in the Virgin Islands.

”I just lost both my businesses to the same damn hurricane, and now I understand I lost my house in Mount Pleasant,” Vick said.

Forty trees that decorated his yard were sheared off at the ground and tossed onto the house.

And the businesses? “What the storm didn’t take the looters did -- $150,000 worth of merchandise,” he said.

Catered by Hugo

In three hours, the Quality Inn Northeast, 1539 Horseshoe Drive, changed its lobby to a chapel for two Charleston lovers who wanted to keep their marriage date.

Mary James-Brown, an employee at the hotel, said she was approached by the groom Friday afternoon after the Inn held a birthday party for a little girl.

”He said, ‘OK, you asked us to help sing Happy Birthday, now, I’m asking you to help me,’ “ she said.

Within three hours, the hotel had rounded up a justice of the peace, a choice of two wedding dresses, gathered guests and made a wedding cake, Ms. James-Brown said. The bride’s family and the groom’s family were in Columbia, she said, as well as all the bridesmaids and their flutist. “So, all their family and friends were present,” she said.

The Inn used king-size sheets for walkways and gathered plants from around the hotel. “I don’t think anyone had a dry eye. It was wonderful,” she said.

The newly married couple spent the night in one of Quality Inn’s suites.Ms. James-Brown did not know the couple’s name, and a hotel receptionist refused to give the name on Saturday.

How ‘bout a close shave?

Lee Robinson didn’t get up close and personal with the storm when it struck the coast, but he’ll get a look at Hugo every time he passes a mirror for a while.

That’s because of the sign on St. Andrews Road: “Power-Out Specials -- $5 ‘til 5:00 -- Hugo Cuts.”

Robinson stopped on a whim and got his hair cut outdoors. He said the barber, at Looking Good Hair Designs, was doing his work along the road because he didn’t have any electricity.

Selling the yard

What do you do when a hurricane sweeps through and plows under your whole lumber yard?

At Coastal Lumber & Home Center on Ashley River Road in Charleston, the answer was to have a yard sale.

”We basically lost our whole yard,” said manager Steve Dunn, who spent Saturday selling lumber and roofing and nails and other supplies. “Basically anything we could get out from under the sheds, we sold.”

Dunn and the four other employees decided to delay repairing their own homes to help out others in greater need.

Others also went to work Saturday, but they weren’t so generous.

Reports had some shops selling chain saws for $600. Dunn said some lumber yards were selling 15-pound rolls of roofing -- which normally go for $8 or $9 -- for $20. He said one enterprising businessman pulled into downtown Charleston Saturday with a truckload of 5,000-watt generators worth $800 each and sold them for $2,000.

”You’re talking about power out for a month,” he said.”People are going to pay it. But I wonder if they sleep well.”

But is it a drive?

Jim Ardis, who spent Thursday night with his parents in Surfside Beach, got a whole new perspective on some familiar beach names after Hugo came through.

”When they call it Ocean Drive, they are serious,” he said. “It’s pretty much an ocean.”

Here comes the surge

U.S. Rep. Arthur Ravenel has always had a reputation for being a bit different. Folks really wondered when he announced he would sit out Hugo with his wife in their Mount Pleasant home on the Charleston Harbor.

As for his wife, she decided Columbia would be a much better place to watch the storm go by, and Ravenel was alone with no power and only a battery- powered radio that could pick up nothing but a Florida radio station since the Charleston stations had shut down.

Around 11 p.m., Hugo hit.

”All of a sudden, it was like a freight train coming in here,” Ravenel said. “The pressure of the storm popped out one of my windows. Then it started ripping the tin roof off the front. The whole house started vibrating. Pictures started jumping off the wall.

”I thought, ‘maybe here comes the surge.’ So I retreated to a small bedroom upstairs and stood near the window. I put on a life jacket. I was prepared to swim.”

But Ravenel would have to wait for another day to show off his backstroke. The eye of the storm passed -- “you could see stars” -- the rest of the storm passed, and by 2 a.m., he was sleeping.

The politics of surfing

Gov. Carroll Campbell’s been putting in long hours trying to return the state to normal after Hugo’s ravages. But he took time out Saturday to blast one of his toughest political critics for what he called irresponsibility.

Rep. Tim Wilkes, D-Fairfield, told The State he had ignored evacuation requests on Thursday and gone to Cherry Grove Beach to surf in the big waves caused by the hurricane.

Campbell said it was ludicrous “that an elected official of the South Carolina government should try such a thing when officials were trying to convince everyone to evacuate that area because of the danger.”

Wilkes, a freshman representative, has made criticizing Campbell an almost full-time job, taking jabs at the governor for everything from his politicking to his handling of recent layoffs at the Mack Trucks plant in his county.

Staff writers Diane Lore, Lee Bandy, Bobby Bryant, Margaret O’Shea, Dawn Hinshaw and Pat Butler contributed to this report.

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