The category 4 hurricane touched down near Charleston just before midnight on September 21, 1989, and went on to terrorize the Carolinas on September 22, with maximum winds of 138 mph and the eye of the storm was 35 miles wide. Hugo hit South Carolina the hardest, ravishing most of the state. And as it reached Charlotte, it blew out windows from skyscrapers and toppled thousands of trees, among other damage.
This is now the 25th anniversary for what at the time was the costliest storm in the United States' history ($7 billion in damage in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and another $3 billion in the Caribbean islands), and tragically it killed at least 41 people in this country, with more than half of the victims being in South Carolina.
Here are a few things I remember from Hurricane Hugo.
- I was nine years old, living in the small town of Rembert, SC (located in Sumter County and about 45 minutes east of Columbia). There were a lot of trees in our yard, and as my family prepared to buckle down for the storm, my mom decided to park her black Pontiac Grand Am in a different place than usual, away from most of the trees. There was only one tree in the area where she parked the car, and it was a really big tree. Surely it would sustain from the hurricane. Not! Hugo knocked that tree over smack on the middle of my mom's car, which she'd only had for about a year. It was a total loss.
- Since the hurricane hit overnight, it had pretty much passed through my town by daybreak. Walking outside in the morning and seeing the devastation was like a scene out of the movies. Debris was everywhere, countless trees uprooted, power lines laying on the ground, houses destroyed.
- Hugo knocked out our power for more than a week (I think). The first couple of days of the aftermath we stayed at home, but then as the power loss persisted, we moved to a hotel in Camden for a few days--I think power got restored there before it came back on in my rural town. Since there was no power in Rembert, there was also no water, and I remember plenty of people going to my Aunt Martha's house to get water because she had one of those old-timey wells with a manual pump.
- Schools were closed for several days. That was the fun part.
- People started selling--and wearing--"I Survived Hurricane Hugo" T-shirts.
The Charlotte Observer and The State (Columbia) have each put together a package of news stories, photos, and accounts of people's memories from Hurricane Hugo, in honor of the 25th anniversary. Visit charlotteobserver.com/hugo and thestate.com/hurricane-hugo.