Hurricane Hugo was born out of a tropical depression, an area of low pressure off the west coast of Africa. Revolving across the Atlantic, feeding its winds on the warm, moist air, the storm gathered fury, growing to become a fierce 15O-mph killer hurricane, cutting a 2,300-mile swath of destruction in a one-week rampage from the Guadeloupe islands to the Carolinas.
Sunday. Sept. 17, 1989
Associated Press reports in The Times and Democrat on Sunday, Sept. 17, put Hugo southeast of the U.S. Virgin Islands, threatening the Leeward Islands and Puerto Rico with 140-mph winds, with hurricane warnings issued for the 600-mile arc of islands from St. Lucia to Puerto Rico. Late that Sunday, Hugo slammed ashore in the Virgin Islands, on a collision course for Puerto Rico, bearing sustained winds of 140 mph, gusting higher. On Guadeloupe and Montserrat, the first islands struck, power was out, sailboats were lifted from their moorings and moved 150 feet to shore. Because of power outages and damaged communications systems, officials were uncertain how many had died.
Monday, Sept. 18, 1989
Monday’s T&D carried wire reports of the closing of the airport in San Juan, evacuations of flood-prone western areas of Puerto Rico and the first deaths, underreported by government officials on Guadeloupe and Montserrat, a tourist haven. Jesse Moore, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., said it was still too early to predict Hugo’s striking the’, American mainland. “By the end of the week,” he said, “it could move into Florida, or it may turn toward the Carolinas. There’s even a chance it won’t hit the U.S. mainland at all.”
Tuesday, Sept. 19, 1989
Tuesday’s headline broadcast Hugo’s landfall in Puerto Rico, where one storm-related death was reported and at least 27,900 people were left homeless. The death toll in the hurricane’s wake, from the first islands to Puerto Rico, stood at 14, but Puerto Rican officials said they couldn’t be sure because of power outages across the island. Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center, said it was still too early to tell whether Hugo, its sustained winds now whirling at 125 mph off the coast of the Dominican Republic, would attack the mainland. But Sheets said he expected to issue hurricane watches and warnings by Wednesday.
Wednesday, Sept. 20, 1989
Wire copy in The T&D Wednesday updated the death toll to 25 and tracked Hugo’s center near latitude 23.3 degrees north and longitude 68.9 west about 185 miles east-northeast of Grand Turk Island in the southern Bahamas. After ravaging the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, the wind had dropped to 105 mph, but Hugo was now in the open ocean, reorganizing strength over the Caribbean, while cruise ships steamed out of the way and transportation services by air and sea were suspended.
In San Juan, three-fourths of the residents were without power and looting was beginning in the torn and shattered commercial areas, where National Guardsmen were deployed to prevent another kind of rampage by human beings. Teams from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Marshal’s Officer were sent in to restore some order to the chaotic area.
The first coverage of Hugo in The T&D, by Staff Writer Susan Larkin, advised residents that plans were under way to evacuate livestock from Beaufort County’s low-lying farms to the Orangeburg County fairgrounds if Hugo brought heavy flooding.
A sidebar from AP, datelined Charleston, reported that coastal residents were stocking up on supplies and the Navy making plans to move its ships to sea for safety should the hurricane keep churning toward the Carolinas. National Hurricane Center forecasters were still making no firm predictions, but John Purvis of the Southeast Regional Climate Center in Columbia said Hurricane Hugo had the potential to be the worst storm to affect the southeast coast since David made landfall in Georgia and South Carolina in 1979.
Thursday, Sept. 21, 1989
Thursday’s headline in The T&D, “Hugo speeds toward coast,” eliminated doubts in the minds of coastal residents and people living close inland. T&D Staff Writer Joyce Milkie covered local preparations by civil defense, city and county officials, social and public services and other agencies as Hugo, picking up windspeed and continuing this way at 120 mph, began to loom large.
President George Bush ordered Army troops to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands Wednesday after National Guardsmen and police reportedly joined prison escapees and others in wild looting. On the U.S. mainland, the hurricane watch extended from St. Augustine, Fla., to Cape Hatteras, N.C. Gathering fury, Hugo advanced on the South Carolina coast.
From Georgia to South Carolina, residents were fleeing inland on jammed highways as Hugo sped toward Savannah, 220 miles from Savannah, Ga., Wednesday and moving at 20 mph with sustained winds of 125 mph.
Coverage of the hurricane here began in earnest Thursday as reporters sought information from the Orangeburg Department of Public Utilities, Orangeburg County Emergency Preparedness and the American Red Cross. Friday’s edition carried information about emergency shelters opened around the county.
Ted Johnson, director of DPU, began to mobilize work crews. Area grocery stores were packed with people stocking up on imperishables and other supplies for the storm. Area motels were filling up with refugees from Hilton Head, Sullivan’s Island and the Isle of Palms, barrier islands destined to bear the brunt of Hugo’s wrath. Fleeing residents said they were frighten by reports that Hurricane Hugo would probably coincide with high tide around 2 a.m. Friday, bringing a storm surge of perhaps 20 feet.
By 9:30 a.m. Thursday, 1-26 westbound was a logjam of vehicles extending from Charleston all the way to Columbia. Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. declared a state of emergency, ordering mandatory evacuation of the barrier islands and shore fronts, dispatching 400 National Guardsmen to assist. Local law enforcement agencies sent their people door-to-door on James Island and in Mount Pleasant, urging residents to head for higher ground.
Three days after pounding Puerto Rico, at around 9:30 p.m. Thursday, the leading edge of the 135-mph storm winds, extending far enough to demolish Garden City, 70 miles to the north, pounded ashore in Charleston. By midnight, the eye passed over the city, bringing about 15 minutes of relief. Then, said an eyewitness who passed a chaotic night in a house in Mount Pleasant, the winds redoubled the assault.
Friday. Sept. 22, 1989
The winds shrieked until dawn over Charleston, collapsing 30 buildings and homes in the city, ripping the roof off City Hall, rolling a 17-foot storm surge into the streets of Charleston and moving the boats in the Wild Dunes Marina, along with concrete pylons, to an island about 300 yards off the northern end of the Isle of Palms.
Dawn revealed a scene of desolation and destruction up and down the coast and throughout counties inland, where Hugo had moved on a northwesterly course through the night, finally spending its fury on Charlotte, N.C., where power was knocked out some 200 miles from the sea.
By Tuesday of the next week, when all reports were in, the death toll stood at 20 in the Carolinas. The aftermath included homes washed away on the Isle of Palms and Sullivan’s Island, access to the mainland prevented by damage to the Ben Sawyer Bridge; some 75,000 people homeless in 12 counties placed on a federal list of disaster areas within six days of the storm; docks and roofs ripped away; rubble and debris on the beaches and streets of countless towns; highways and roads blocked in barely accessible areas in St. Stephen and Eutawville; trees felled all the way through eastern Calhoun County and Sumter County; a trail of darkness at night from power outages extending to Charlotte; homes split in half by docks that became airborne; homes and vehicles smashed by trees; glass shattered by hurled debris or blown out by wind pressure; sailboats and shrimp boats hauled yards inland in McClellanville and Charleston on the storm surge, propelled by wind.
The winds, sustained at 70 mph and gusting higher, whipped through Orangeburg around 1 a.m. Friday, toppling trees and utility poles, blowing overloaded transformers, tossing debris through windows, peeling back roofs and ripping away signs and billboards. The county listed one fatality. Samuel Middleton, 69, of Route I , Box 708 outside Eutawville, died around 1 a.m. when high winds picked up his mobile home and dumped it 40 feet from its original position.
Sept. 23-26, 1989
Power outages were widespread in the county. Orangeburg County, like the others assaulted in the night, struggled Friday and Saturday to recover. Santee and the lake areas were still in need of water and ice as the week after Hugo progressed. The American Red Cross reopened a shelter Tuesday for people left without refuge in Santee and Holly Hill.
Belvedere, Fountain, St. Julien, Mill Creek, Rocks Pond Estates, Rocks Pond Subdivision and other places fronting Lake Marion looked Tuesday, said T&D Staff Writer Sherri A. Clayton, “like logging camp roads run amok.” South Carolina Electric and Gas official; estimated Tuesday that power would not be available for many areas of Santee and Elloree, Bowman and Vance for two or three weeks.
Orangeburg County Assistant Administrator Donnie Hilliard put Hugo’s tab here at around 22 million, and Calhoun County Council Chairman David Summers estimated damages in his area at $20 million. Most refugees from the storm left the area motels early in the week, finding places to stay with friends or relatives or going home to assess damages. But lodging in area motels will be scarce until the utility crews, insurance adjustors, electricians, Red Cross personnel, tree men and roofers finish their part in the repairs and clean up.
Wednesday, Sept. 27, 1989
District 95 Rep. Will McCain was fighting Wednesday for a federal Disaster Assistance Center for individual claims in Orangeburg County and donations for the homeless and persons without refrigeration were pouring in from disaster agencies, corporations and volunteers. Hugo brought another storm to the area. Local insurance companies are being flooded with claims, ranging from food spoilage to total loss, and by Friday, the rural areas from Vance to Cross in Berkeley County were still awaiting the restoration of power
Thursday, Sept. 28, 1989
Thursday, as victims throughout the state struggled for normalcy despite conditions of loss and devastation, Congress approved $1.1 billion in disaster relief measures at the urgings of Sen. Ernest Hollings, D-S.C., and Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C. Calhoun County Council passed a resolution Thursday to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency funds to county-owned property.
Friday. Sept. 29, 1989
On Friday, the state Department of Social Services announced the availability of food stamps for victims of Hugo, and lines were forming Friday morning at the DSS offices on St. Matthews Road.
Saturday, Sept. 30, 1989
The aftermath of Hugo brought the tragedy of three deaths in a house fire attributed to the use of candles in the Holly Hill area, where lights and drinking water were still not available. Vivian White Bryant and her children, 6-year-old Charles Henry Bryant Jr. and 2-year-old Charvine Hendrick Bryant, died from smoke inhalation in the Friday morning fire . The American Red Cross was to halt mass feedings, announcing the closings of food sites for Hugo victims in parts of eastern Orangeburg County, including Vance, Eutaw Springs, Holly Hill and Providence. And 2nd District Republican Congressman Floyd Spence toured eastern Orangeburg County after taking a Friday morning tour of metropolitan Charleston with President Bush. Department of Public Utilities Manager Ted Johnson announced Saturday that electrical power was back 100 percent for the department’s customers in Orangeburg.
Sunday, Oct. 1, 1989
Front-page headlines compared the ravages of Hugo to war and publicized a flap raging over the speed of federal relief efforts. A chief critic of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s efforts to set up relief centers was Sen. Hollings, who accused the agency of strangling aid attempts in red tape and called FEMA’s officials “ a bunch of bureaucratic jackasses.” President Bush defended FEMA, saying, “ I am satisfied the federal government has moved and moved expeditiously.”
Monday, Oct. 2, 1989
A new mayor and three city council members took the oath of office in Orangeburg. Mayor E.O. Pendarvis stepped down after 24 years of service, welcoming Mayor Martin Cheatham to the office along with council members Joyce W. Rheney, Martin Moore and Liz Zimmerman Keitt. Hugo claimed another victim, a local furniture store owner, Kenneth Earl Sutcliffe, who was electrocuted when he leaned against a wire screen on a pier at his lake house in Santee. Headlines about Hugo began to give place to the more ordinary events of the city and county, including a budget addition being considered by county council to help local agencies fight a war on drugs and the opening of the 79th Orangeburg County Fair.
Tuesday. Oct. 3, 1989
At last, Orangeburg County got word that a FEMA center would open Thursday at Santee Village Square, along with a second site for food stamp distribution in Eutawville for one day only. And Orangeburg got 4.95 inches of rain between midnight Saturday and 8 a .m. Monday, 1.20 inches more than Hugo dumped on the area, according to the Department of Public utilities and the state agricultural statistics service.
The flooding was so severe that several families evacuated from their homes in Orangeburg had to spend the night in temporary shelters. Burning bans were lifted in seven southeastern South Carolina counties, including Orangeburg, and the lead local story was about three drug suspects going on trial in federal court in Aiken.
While Hugo left behind mental pain and physical destruction, said John Kemp, an education and prevention coordinator with the Orangeburg Area Mental Health Center, “the worse thing hasn’t happened. It isn’t a war. There’s no invading army. Things will get back to normal, and maybe we’ll appreciate things more in the process.”
Hurricane Hugo was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday morning, Sept. 22, and diminished from West Virginia to New York, carrying only a memory of wind and rain into Canada. But the legacy of death, destruction and loss from Hugo in South Carolina will not fade as quickly, and the state will need years and every resource its leaders and citizens can muster to come back economically, psychologically and aesthetically from the punishment inflicted by the storm of the century.