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Hurricane history: Matthew not first big storm to take aim at state

Hurricane history: Matthew not first big storm to take aim at state

Hurricane Gracie

In 1959, Hurricane Gracie came ashore near Edisto Beach and went straight up through Orangeburg. There was much damage throughout the city, primarily from trees falling on utility lines, houses and automobiles. This picture shows the first block of Green Street between Amelia and Henley streets with many uprooted trees.

Hurricane Matthew’s rampage across the Atlantic and up the coast toward South Carolina has been frightening, but it’s nothing new to the Carolinians.

Hurricanes and tropical storms have been a way of life for the Palmetto State since the first settlers set foot on its rich soil.

Orangeburg, which is roughly 125 miles from the coast, has not seen as much damage as its coastal neighbors, but it has not been exempt from the devastation caused by these powerful storms.

Hugo, a Category 4 hurricane known as South Carolina’s “Storm of the Century,” hit the state in 1989, and is probably the one that lingers most in people’s memories.

Hugo damaged 246 homes and caused estimated real estate damage of $40 million in Orangeburg County alone. Neighboring Calhoun County saw more than $20 million in damages, and was declared a disaster area. Statewide, the damages were estimated to be $7 billion.

Hurricane Floyd landed in North Carolina in 1999, but on the way, it dumped torrents of rain on South Carolina from Orangeburg to Columbia. The storm proved to be a a lesson for the state in how to more efficiency evacuate the population when facing future storms. Residents being evacuated from the Grand Strand sat for as long as 20 hours in traffic jams on the state’s roadways. Then-Gov. Jim Hodges was criticized for waiting too long to order lane reversals. Officials would later take action more quickly to speed up evacuations.

Another vast storm that lingers in the memory of older inhabitants is Hurricane Gracie, which made landfall at Beaufort on Sept. 22, 1959. It boasted winds up to 140 miles per hour, causing 22 deaths and $14 million in damages.

Gracie passed through Orangeburg before turning north and moving on to North Carolina, Virginia and New England.

While in Orangeburg, Gracie had winds as high as 75 miles per hour and poured out an estimated 10-12 inches of rain, according to a report in The Times and Democrat.

Landing and diving platforms on the Edisto River near the Pavilion were under several feet of water by midnight. Houses were damaged by falling trees, chimneys were toppled and roofing was torn off.

Only a few people ventured outside and those who did “were forced to move cautiously around trees and branches or retrace their paths,” The T&D reported.

Stores and businesses opened as usual, but closed early during the day as the downpour of rain increased and the gusts of wind grew steadily stronger, blowing water under doorways and windowsills.

The National Weather Service has recorded hundreds of hurricanes and tropical storms that have hit North America since Colonial times.

But at least one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the state brought a benefit along with it.

The Spanish Repulse Hurricane was the first recorded hurricane to hit North America. It made landfall just below Charleston on Sept. 4, 1686 and lasted two days.

The storm came just in time to repulse an attack by the Spanish on the lower Carolina settlements, probably near modern day Folly Beach.

Unfortunately, it also caused much damage to the settlement, driving ships onto land, destroying crops and houses and killing many people.

The second recorded hurricane, known as the Rising Sun Hurricane, also made landfall near Charleston. It hit on Sept. 14, 1700. It flooded the streets of the city, ruined crops and property and caused at least 70 deaths.

The storm damaged numerous ships, including a Scottish vessel called the Rising Sun, killing all sailors on board.

The National Weather Service lists several hundred hurricanes and tropical storms that hit the United States from 1686 to the present. Some did minor damage while others were devastating.

The Great Carolina Hurricane, a Category 3 storm, made landfall just below Savannah on Sept. 7, 1854. It lasted two days and caused great property damage from high winds and storm surge in Charleston.

On Aug. 25, 1885, an unnamed Category 2 hurricane hit Charleston. It destroyed all except one of the city’s wharves and damaged 90 percent of its buildings, causing damage totaling $2 million. Many lives were lost in the storm.

For more than 300 years, South Carolina and its neighboring states have faced major and minor hurricanes and tropical storms. In the early days, the community had little or no warning that the disastrous storms were about to strike.

Today, people facing Matthew's wrath are in a much better position than their ancestors were.

Following the havoc wreaked by Hugo across the state, officials updated the technology for dealing with the huge storms. Today, hurricanes are tracked and mapped for days or even weeks, making it possible to predict the potential tracks of the storms, along with wind speeds, storm surge and the impact on inland areas.

Evacuation routes are planned out for different areas along the coast and emergency shelters are set up across the state. In addition, lanes on interstates and major highways are reversed, allowing residents of threatened areas to evacuate more efficiently.

Contributing sources for this story were: “History of Storms on the South Carolina Coast” by Laylon Wayne Jordan, “South Carolina Hurricanes” by John C. Purvis, S.C. Department of Natural Resources and T&D Reporter Gene Zaleski.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5529.


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