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Hurricane Hugo

By Wikipedia

Hurricane Hugo was first detected as a group of thunderstorms near Cape Verde, Africa, on September 9, 1989. Moving westward, it was declared a tropical storm on September 11, and declared a hurricane on the 13th. When it reached the Caribbean, it struck and caused much devastation in places such as Guadeloupe, the Leeward Islands, St. Croix, and Puerto Rico, where six people died on September 18th.

Hugo made landfall in North America on the evening of the 21st as a Category 4 hurricane just northeast of Charleston, South Carolina, heading toward Charlotte, North Carolina. It had originally been moving towards Savannah, Georgia, which was evacuated, but moved towards Charleston. Had it hit Savannah, it would have been the first major hurricane to hit the east coast between Palm Beach, Florida and the Savannah River since 1899; instead, this would last fifteen more years, until Hurricane Jeanne hit north of Palm Beach in 2004.

While downtown Charleston suffered extensive damage, the brunt of the storm was borne by the northern suburbs of Mt Pleasant, Sullivan's Island, and Isle of Palms. Both islands were disconnected from the mainland by destruction of their bridges. Along the coast it destroyed many houses and the storm surge piled boats on top of each other.

While the eye passed over Charleston, the storm's most intense region, known as the dangerous semi-circle, came ashore still further north between the small towns of Awendaw and McClellanville in the Francis Marion National Forest, breaking off most mature trees. In McClellanville, a small fishing village, residents took refuge in Lincoln High School, and were surprised by the sudden tidal surge which flooded the school. With water pouring into the rooms, the refugees helped one another in pitch darkness to climb into the space in the hanging ceiling above the rooms. All survived.

The storm moved rapidly, with the center passing over Moncks Corner and close to Sumter, destroying homes, timber, and the area cotton crop.

By the time it reached Charlotte, it was still strong enough to topple many trees across roads and houses and leave many without power for as long as a week. The last death caused by the storm was in East Aurora, New York near Buffalo when the winds toppled a tree onto a motorist.

After the storm, then Governor of South Carolina, Carroll Campbell, said that the storm destroyed enough timber to frame a home for every family in the state of West Virginia. He also noted that there were about 3,000 tornadoes embedded within the hurricane, which accounts for extensive damage in some areas not within the path of the eyewall.

NOAA Satellite

View of Hugo on September 21st.

Image courtesy of NASA.

Hugo caused $7 billion ($9.4 billion in 2000 dollars) in damage in the US (plus $3 billion in the Caribbean). At the time it was the costliest hurricane in US history, but was exceeded in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew in south Florida. In South Carolina, which bore the brunt of the storm on the continent, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was slow in responding and Senator Fritz Hollings referred to them as "a bunch of bureacratic jackasses." An investigation was launched, which led to some reforms in FEMA procedures that helped the agency do a somewhat better job during Andrew, the next catastrophic hurricane to strike the United States.

Sources differ on the number of people killed by Hugo, with some citing the American Meteorological Society's figure of 49, and others claiming 56 deaths. Some government agency sources claim only 32 deaths.

On the island of St. Croix, looting and lawlessness reigned in the aftermath of Hugo. Phone, electricity, hospitals, banks, the airport and 90% of all structures were severely damaged or destroyed. Three days after the storm hit, the Governor of the Virgin Islands asked President George Bush for federal assistance in restoring order to the island. On September 20th, members of the XVIII Airborne "Contingency Corps" were dispatched to the island as part of Operation Hawkeye. Military police patrolled the island for two months imposing a dusk to dawn curfew. Cargo planes used to bring in food, water, mobile hospital units and other supplies offered free evacuation flights for anyone wanting to leave for the mainland.

The name Hugo was retired following this storm, and was replaced with Humberto in the 1995 season.

In a piece of historic trivia, Hugo had a small but significant effect on basketball history. When the storm hit St. Croix, it destroyed the only Olympic-size pool in the Virgin Islands. This pool was the training site of Tim Duncan, a 13-year-old swimmer who was one of the top age-group swimmers in the United States, not just the Virgin Islands. However, when his training pool was destroyed, he switched his focus to basketball. Duncan eventually became an All-American at Wake Forest University and a two-time NBA MVP with the San Antonio Spurs, and has three NBA championship rings with the Spurs.


Share Your Memories!

What do you remember about Hurricane Hugo? Have you any compelling stories to share? Share your stories with the world! (We print the best stories right here!)

Your Memories Shared!

"Hugo took the life of my mother and father and I was left homeless. I am now 16 and i am doing alright. I still remember the terrible first day it hit our town in South Carolina. It was a day where all I could hear was screaming and people boarding up there windows."


"I lived in York South Caroina, about 250 mi. away from the nearest coastline. I remember my Father telling me that he was going to the Yacht Club to check on our 26' Sea Ray before the storm came in. That night my Mother, my Father, and I were huddled together in ou double wide mobile home out in the country. We kept wondering about the big oak, pine, and sycamore trees that surrounded our home thinking that they would fall on our roof at anytime. The radio broadcast told the people that did not have a basement to go to a friend or relatives house with a basement. We left and drove to friend's house in Chevy Blazer. Trees crossed our path and tranformers above our truck kept blowing up. I remember my Father getting out of the truck several times to cut the fallen trees out of our way with a chainsaw. The rain made it so difficult to see we drove about 10 miles per hour. The drive to our friend's house normally only takes about 15-20 minutes, but this trip took about 1 hour. When we arrived at the neighborhood there was too many trees in the road to keep going, so we got out to finish the trip by walking in the terrifing wind and rain. My Father had to hold me down while holding on to my Mother so that we did not get blown down or away. Finally we made to safety and the next morning every thing was either smashed or ripped away. There were holes in the ground that used to be a place where a tree had been, but there was no trace of the tree. The boat that my Father checked on the day before was still tide to the dock, but that entire marina was pushed back into one cove. Our moblie home was fine only our Lincoln Mercury was flattened by a 50' pine tree. When the pine tree had been cut off our car the tire amazingly expanded, it was flattened but never popped. My tree house was still entacted and none of our friends died. We had to help our friends get out of their driveways at their homes because of all the fallen trees. Electricity was out for two weeks and we barbecued for that whole time. I was in the fifth grade and about 10 years old at the time. I have lived in Houston Texas for eleven years now and have never seen anything as horrible as that."


"Oh, yes! Stupidly we decided to stay home for Hurricane Hugo. We realized what a mistake we had made when Channel 5 Weatherman, Charlie Hall signed off that evening saying, something to the effect that if you are here to see this, we hope you'll still be around tomorrow. Unfortunately, it was a bit too late do anything other than pray at that point. We could feel the house trying to lift off its foundation. A tree came though the roof into our living room and the back end of the same tree smashed in our French doors in the family room."


"I thought that I would stay in my house to keep it safe. It shouldn't be that bad, I lived in Hartsville, South Carolina, 100 miles from the coast. I stayed alright but the sound of the trees snapping and the wind kept me up all night. The 50 or so Pine trees next to my house were snapped 10 to 15 feet up from the ground. One Pine tree in my backyard came within inches of slicing into my house. I was one of the lucky ones. My family was not harmed and my home was not damaged. I still think of the ones that were not as lucky as me."


"I remember Hugo very well. I live in S.C. and at the time of the hurricane, I was 10 years old. I remember very well that Hugo came through on my birthday. My parents and I lived in a mobile home in Lake City, S.C., just approximately 55 miles from Myrtle Beach. I remember that we stayed in our mobile home through the hurricane. Looking back now, 13 years later, I know that God had his hand on us that awful night. I know that I didn't go to school that day, but instead, my mother and I were in the grocery stores for hours trying to get last minute supplies. We had a very large barn and 5 horses at the time so my father was bording up the house and the barn. When my mother and I returned home, I asked my Dad why our horses were in the yard; I said "Daddy they are going to run away"! He smiled and said "Well pumpkin, they will come back after the storm." With that assurance I told them goodbye and that I would see them soon. Well that little worry could have never prepared me for the worries I would have in the night ahead. I didn't fully understand what a hurricane was. I thought, a little thunder and lightning, and a lot of rain. Everything would be fine and I could look forward to my birthday party. The next few hours went by, and then the wind picked up and the rains came. My mother had given me a bath early that day and filled all of our sinks and bathtubs with water. After the winds increased we lost our power and I remember us all hudled in the middle of our living room with the radio going, candles burning, & flashlights at our sides. Another hour past, and the storm worsened. I heard bumps and thuds, and I was very scared. My Mom and Dad put me into a sleeping bag and zipped it tight. They moved me to our bathroom in which we had a open counter that they slid me under. They stuffed pillows all around me and gave me a flashlight and my teddy bear. They assured everything would be okay, just go to sleep and when I woke up it would be my birthday. Well that's what I did and unfourtunately it was not a happy birthday. I awoke to the roar of chainsaws and hammers clanging. My Mother took me outside where my family was examining the destruction. We lost every tree in our yard which was about 15. The only tree that did not fall was a very large oak that stood 6 feet from our house. Had that tree fallen, it would have surely destroy our home completely and possibly could have taken our lives. God had spared us, but Hugo left scars that will never go away. We were without water and power for at least a week if not more. My Dad's truck was destroyed, the barn was half collapsed. The odd thing was that as far as our house damage, we lost shingles and shutter and the skirting of our mobile home, but other than minimal damage, we were very lucky or should I say blessed. All of our horses were accounted for the next day. I don't how they did it; I am still amazed at the survival instinct of animals. I had survived my first hurricane and I grew up in an instant. I didn't care that it was my birthday or complain about not having power. Instead, I helped my family with cooking, chopping up trees, rebuilding the barn, cleaning up debris, and just thanking God that my loved ones were safe. Hurricane Hugo was by far the most terrifying experience of my young life. You never know what it is like until you live through one in the most unsafe state of survival possible. It has been many years since Hugo, but I still think about it from time to time and how it's devastation brought our families together to thank God that we made it and still have each other."

--Kat in SC

"I was in the ninth grade and I slept through most of it, but I remember the morning after. It was awlful. Trees laying everywhere. Flooding, roofs torn apart! We were without power for a while, and no water either. We missed 7 days of school, and almost missed our homecoming game. I live in Camden, SC which is about 30 miles east of Columbia. We are pretty far inland, but Hugo got us anyway!"


"I live in Hickory, NC and the results of Hugo's rath was similar to that of a war zone. Trees were jammed in house tops and cars were crushed. Streets were blocked by the debris where you could't even leave your immediate area. It was something I wouldn't want to experience from the coastal area."


"I was about 13 years old when hugo hit. The biggest thing I remember from this storm was that me and my family was staying at Haut Gap Middle School's Gymnasium shelter area on John's Island. During the storm we had to be evactuated because of growing fears that the roof was going to cave in. The firemen attached a rope from the gym to the main building. We then had to grab onto the rope and walk from the gym to the main building. I remember fierce winds that made the rain flow horizontally. You could see tree branches breaking off and fly above our heads. Needless to say it was the scariest moment of my life at that time. But we made it through."


"At the time Hugo slammed into the S. C. coast I was in the 5th grade and living on Sullivan's Island (one of the many barrier islands of S. C. ). My family and I stayed intown with my grandparents. When we were finally able to return home, we could not travel down Main St. to our home, we had to take the long way around due to a house blocking the road.

We were one of the lucky families that lived on the island because we at least had a house to come home to. Most of my friends that lived on that island and the ones that lived on the neighboring island had nothing to return to. Thier homes were completely gone, not even the foundations were left. Since then I live in constant fear of hurricanes and wonder will I be as lucky the next time one desides to visit my home??"


"I was 6 and in the first grade we had gotten out early and I had no clue what was going on until we saw the news and me , my grandparents, and my mom gatherd in the hallway. My grandpa went outside during the eye which was the stupidest thing and the next day out shed was in my best friends backyard, and me and my mom went driving around in our neighborhood all the businesses was damaged. "


"Hmm, what a night to remember! For three days prior to the storm, the Weather Channel kept interupting their regular broadcasts to display updates of the storms path. If you work, and do other things you really don't pay that much attention to the TV or news for that matter. This was different. I had relatives in Atlanta, urging my wife and I to leave Charleston as all indications predicted that landfall would occur here. I worked for a hospital and we were directed to board up windows and to do other tasks to prepare for the storm. All the while most of our homes, were not prepared for what was to come. I lived near the Ashley river and this area was only a few feet above sea level, so if the storm surge had hit, this area would have been under 10 feet of ocean as well as river. So taping and moving furniture happened for a few nights before the storm hit.

Since I lived in a town house, I moved all of the furniture upstairs to the upper level. On the day the storm hit, all the radio stations were saying, "GET-OUT, NOW!" This was around 11:00 A. M. My wife and I decided to evacuate and we got on the highway and drove down I-26. The minute we hit I-26 it was like a scene out of Independance day. The traffic was so thick, cars were driving on the medium. It was so bad that the state police opened up the incoming lanes to allow people to leave the city. We made it to I-95, and started driving up and down the road to find a room at a motel. Every place we looked, cars were piled up and the sad sign of "No-Vacancy" greated us. It was pretty depressing as now it was around 4:00 P. M. and by now the sky was a thick grayish-blackish color.

After driving around for another thirty minutes or so, we decided to go back to Charleston and go to the highest point in the city which was 26 ft above Sea level. We drove first to our Town house and by this time it was around 7:00 or 8:00 P. M. We turned on the TV to see if there was any new news on but there wasn't, in fact there wasn't really anything on. I called my family in Atlanta and told them we were going to find the highest area of the city and try to find a place there. By this time, we got our cat, and stuff and re-piled back into the cars.

By the time we hit the highway, the gusts were already peaking 80 mph sustained. I had a cat with me, and the cat's tail was puffed out like it had been in a fight, but the true reality of it was that the cat was scared beyond anything that it had ever experienced. It kept clawing my leg as I drove towards the bridge crossing the Ashly river. The rain was pelting my car horizontally and the wind, whew. . . that was another story in itself! First I was driving about 45 mph on full acceleration, then in an instant with the wind so strong, I was busy shifting gears so the engine wouldn't stop. I put it into 2nd gear and chugged along the highway. No other cars were seen. As I approached the Ashley River bridge, the water which is normally like 15 ft below was spraying the side of the bridge. The sounds around me were like a thousand frieght trains. . . in every direction. The cat really started to freak out now, in fact so much that I put the cat on the passenger side and off my now bleeding lap as I needed full attention to cross the bridge. The moment I got near the bridge, I couldn't go faster then 5 or 10 mph. The wind was too strong!

The water was splashing over the side of the bridge and again, to give you an idea of how high the water was, it had to have risen at least 10 to 12 feet as the bridge is about 20 feet above the water. With mist from the water, and the rain pelting the vehicle, I truly thought that I wasn't going to make it across that bridge. It was the scarriest drive of my life! Seeing occasional waves hit the bridge and here I am about 7 miles from the ocean wasn't a comforting feeling. And the vehicle would occasionally shift from right to left like a rocking. . . movement.

Finally, I got off the bridge and everything seemed a bit better. The winds were still sustained, but at least I wouldn't drown on this night. I made it to the hotel, and checked in. And about 15 minutes after check in, the full fury of the hurricane hit. For most of the night my wife and I laid awake, thinking the roof would come off and incredibly it didn't. The next day we awoke to the sound of chirping birds and a beautiful September morning. When we looked out the window, that was another story indeed."


"I lived in Catawba, NC when Hurricane Hugo hit. We never thought that it would come this far in but guess what it did. We had a trampoline in our back yard and the wind picked it up and tossed it over the house and it flew away. A neighbor found it and returned it. They live 10 miles from us. That was wild. My car windows were left down and I went out to roll them up, and the wind was so strong I couldn't get out of the car; my dad had to help me get out. No other storm will ever top that one. "


"I lived and currently live in Summerville, SC 18 miles NW of Charleston. The eye of Hugo passed directly over our house. The day Hugo hit was a beautiful, beautiful day. People still had it in their minds that Hugo was not coming. It didn't even start raining until after 8PM. I remember my parents turning off the TV and flipping the main power switch in the breaker box as it got late. We all moved into the back hall. The eye made landfall just after midnight. I'll never forget the sounds. Huddled in that back hall it was just a constant roar. The doors rattled and the house creaked and you thought at any moment the house would lift right off the foundation. I was sick. All the doors rattling back and forth - like they would in an earthquake.

When the eye passed over it was silent. We actually went outside. It wasn't long before you could hear the winds. You could hear the other side of the storm coming. The back end was worse. The morning brought weather possibly more beautiful than the day before. Sunshine. Blue, blue skies. On the ground, complete destruction. Our street was barely recognizable.

This entire area was barely recognizable. George Bush Senior came right here to Summerville to personally tour the damage. We were without power for over two weeks. A community really comes together in those times. You can't go anywhere, you couldn't get your car out of the driveway, and your neighborhood becomes your entire world. It's a time to come together. With all the destruction not one tree went through our house. Everyone and everything was damaged in some way, though. Everyone that was here will always remember. The forests were set back at least 50 years. And it's the little things that remind you of the power.

When we bought new doors for our house we had to shave down the middles to make them fit. Our door frames were warped from the pressure of the hurricane. Regardless of the risk I can't imagine myself abandoning my home during a storm. As I write this fifteen years later, there is a hurricane warning which means we can expect hurricane force winds in a 24 hour period. We're all still right here in Summerville, we've been right here in this area for over 300 years, I don't see why we shouldn't stay another 300 or so."


"I was in college at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. We lived in a high-rise dorm and I remember going into the bathroom on the 10 floor and seeing the water in the toilet slosh back and forth due to the sway in the building. "


"We were living in Goose Creek housing while my husband was stationed on the USS Thorn DD-988. We were in Charleston for Hugo. People cannot imagine the power of that storm but as an example, our house had a covered front patio which was anchored into brick with cement and 6" long, 1" diameter iron bolts. After the storm, these bolts were pulled out of the cement by over 4". A friend and I, afterwards, drove through the National Forrest. What forrest? The trees were snapped off and all that was left were jagged toothpicks sticking up out of the ground!"


"I remember Hugo all too well, though I wasn't there when it hit. I live near Seattle, but my mom's side of the family lives in a small town about 40 miles from Charleston. I've been there many times, but at the time I was only 14. My mom talked to her relatives right before the storm, and they didn't seem too worried. Like many people it seems, they decided to stay. Granddaddy said that they were just going to get a little wind. I vividly remember sitting in the living room and watching the hurricane reports on the news.

They kept predicting that the storm would turn, but we knew in our hearts that it wouldn't. It made a beeline straight for South Carolina. That 'little wind' ripped the roof off my aunt's house like peeling a grape. She and my cousins were huddled in the downstairs bathroom. Maybe some of you remember seeing a picture of a church with a tree rammed straight through front right under the peak of the roof. That was their church. We were all worried to death, as phone service did not come back for over 3 days. A few months later, my mom visited on her own, and she said that she could see the lights from Coopersville about 30 miles away. She asked Grandmama what they were, because even though she'd grown up there, she'd never seen lights from that direction. They could see the lights because trees had all been flattened."


"In 1989, when Hugo hit Charleston, S. C. , I was a second class petty officer in the Navy stationed onboard the USS Mt Baker. We were moored along side pier Bravo at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station on the Cooper River. Due to work being done on our engine room area by the Naval Shipyards, Mt Baker was unable to go to sea and had to ride the storm out sitting pier side. It was one of the longest days of my life and one I won't forget. We were ordered to be on board no later than 4:30 AM on the day Hugo hit. All day, we prepared the ship for the hurricane by dropping anchors, using every single line we could find to tie to the pier. All day, we worked furiously trying to make sure everything was tied down to the best of our ability, while the winds became stronger and stronger as the day passed. Being one of the senior petty officers in my division, I turned in to my quarters early in the evening so I could be rested up and ready to rise when Hugo arrived.

At approvimately 2200 (10 pm) I was awakened by a messenger telling me I was wanted on deck. Never in my life had I experienced what I was to experience that night as I sat in a small vestibule on the edge of the bow with a small crew of sailors who were to watch the bow lines and report if we started to break loose from our moor. The rest of the night, we sat there drinking coffee and watching the winds as they battered our ship, while three Navy tugs sat across the pier from us trying to survive the impact. One tug was hit by a steel light pole on the pier that finally broke loose. The crew was lucky and was not injured. The Navy dive boat from the main base was moored to the pier off of our stern and sometime during the night, I heard thier officer in charge say over the radio that they were abandoning ship.

The dive boat went down. The crew crawled across the pier on thier stomachs clinging to huge lines which were connected to on of the three tugs across from them and were able to reach safety on board the tug. During the eye, the tugs quickly changed positions and went to our port side were they stayed the rest of the night steaming full speed ahead holding us against the pier as the tail winds came at us with a fierce force of wind. The next morning, the Naval Weapons Station, resembled a war zone with trees broke and twisted off 15 feet up. Our ship's parking lot was invisible from all the trees and debri. The days to follow were a life changing experience as everyone tried to survive the effects of Huricane Hugo. I was a newly wed and my wife was pregnant with our first child. This memory will stay with me the rest of the days of my life."


"We live in the tiny fishing village of McClellanville, the northern section of Charleston, SC where Hugo came through like a fast moving train. We live about 2 miles from the water. My husband and two small children were home when this killer storm came calling. The howling wind was scary but the 20ft surge was worst. I first felt my floor damp"


"Hurricane Hugo hit St. Croix, US Virgin on September 17th I was 5 years old. There are still things that I vividly remember. The roof began to lift off of our house and my entire family(my two brothers, mother and dad) walked next door to the neighbors house because her house had just had its roof replaced. It takes less than 15 seconds to get from the front door of our house to the front door of her house. On this particular night it took about 30 minutes. It was the longest 30 minutes in the life of a five year old. My brothers were blown in the opposite direction. My mother, who was carrying me, had to hand me over to my father because she was hit in the arm by a piece of galvanized metal. She still has the scar on her arm to this day. Once we made it to our neighbors house, we sat in the dark in wet clothing and fell asleep. The next day was bright; the sky was blue and destruction was everywhere. Our house had no roof, and our neighbors down the street had had their refridgerator lifted out of the roof of their home by a tornado. There were no more trees in our yard, and the roads were impassible. We went into the house and could see the sky from our living room. It was a terrifying day in the life of a five year old girl."

--Niki of St. Croix



Courtesy of NOAA

Date(s): September 16-22, 1989

Location: Caribbean & Southeast U.S.

Deaths: 504


Damage: $9.4B

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