Hurricane Hugo, 1989, Category 5

Hurricane Hugo approaches the South Carolina coast in this satellite photo taken on September 21, 1989. (Photo credit: NOAA)

How well I remember. I had an eight year old and a two year old and we lived out in the country in a mobile home. We had never seen a hurricane before. We had no idea what to expect. Just what the media told us. I know that a lot of people are saying all of the fuss about Hurricane Irene is overkill. So be it. It may save someone’s life. Better to be a little inconvienced than dead.    

I remember my daughter was wearing a cute little pink jumper. My husband had pulled the car right up beside the deck and I was literally pushing the kids in. I remember her pink diaper bag crammed full and overflowing with whatever I thought we might need. Pink must be my favorite color. I don’t remember what anyone else was wearing.

We really waited to late to go into town to a more secure structure. Trees were down everywhere so the normal route to town was blocked. Trust me turning around and going back and trying different roads was not a fun adventure in the middle of night with two children in the car. No wait, the children were fine. I was near hysterics. Power lines were down. It was dark. The rain was pounding. Not my idea of fun.

On the way back home the next day it was shocking to see how many trees were down. It took a lot longer than usual to get home. By the time we made our way down the winding dirt road we lived on I really didn’t expect to see our mobile home still standing. But here it was. Still standing. A double pine tree the length of the trailor had fallen parallel to the trailor within about half an inch of it. That was a good thing because from the other side another huge pine tree fell across the trailor. The double in the front kept it from cutting our little home in half! It only uprooted one end with a little smush and a branch went through the living room roof. Both fixable. The biggest loss was a very nice huge deck that my husband had built the summer before.


I do remember the sound of chain saws for a long long time. It must have taken months to clear all of those trees from around our home. The smell of pine sap was overwhelming. It was hot and humid as there was no electricity for about two weeks. Two weeks that my husband won’t let me forget that I spent at my grandmothers about three hours away with all the comforts of home. Hey when my husband went to work at night it was dang scary out there in complete darkness and the pine sap bothered my asthma. So yes I deserted him. If I die first he will probably have that written on my headstone.

Now when I hear hurricane I start making plans. Mother Nature is like an angry mother bear that you leave alone. We know what to expect so, we wish all of you in the path of Irene good sense, safety and home in one piece to go back to.

A Cape Verde storm in the North Atlantic Ocean, Hugo intensified dramatically and was already classified a Category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Scale while positioned well east of the Leeward Islands in mid-September 1989.

Hugo then turned toward the northwest. Hurricane warnings were issued for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. As the hurricane proceeded northwestward, the eye wall scraped the northeastern tip of Puerto Rico. Twelve lives were lost on the island and $2 billion in damage was reported. There was enormous damage in the US Virgin Islands where St. Croix was leveled.

After Hugo’s interlude with Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) downgraded it to a Category 2. Preparations for the storm were made from Florida to the Carolinas. By Wednesday, September 20th, it became apparent that Hugo was heading for the South Carolina coast.

Emergency management officials prepared the area for a Category 2 hurricane, but on Thursday, the hurricane began to intensify rapidly. By Thursday afternoon, it became apparent that Hugo was going to be a significant hurricane.

Hurricane Hugo made landfall northeast of Charleston, South Carolina, near midnight on the night of September 21st and the storm surge was estimated at over 20 feet.

Fortunately, the eye of Hugo passed just north of Charleston, and the storm surge was highest in an area that was not highly populated.

Buildings and structures were devastated across the state, like this one that sustained massive damage in Charleston, S.C. (Photo credit: NOAA)

Had the eye passed even 20 miles to the south, much of the Battery district of Charleston would have been overrun with water. Considering the number of news crews operating in the area, many lives would have been lost. As it was, much of the communities of Folly Beach, Sullivans Island, Isle of Palms, and McClellanville were heavily damaged.

Sustained winds were in excess of 135 miles per hour as Hugo made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. Another surprise for the forecasters happened inland. Because Hugo’s forward movement was nearly 30 miles per hour, the storm remained strong as it moved up through South Carolina into North Carolina.

Hurricane force wind gusts resulted in tree and power line damage as far inland as Charlotte, North Carolina. The remnants of Hugo moved into West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. Damage was estimated at over $7 billion.
This information from

2 responses to “Hurricane Hugo, 1989, Category 5

  1. Thanks for sharing your harrowing ordeal. I’m glad that people evacuated in such high numbers for Irene . . . I’m sure it saved a few lives.

    I’m also glad that Irene didn’t come ashore as a Category 5. Her breadth (which dispersed her power) saved millions from catastrophe.

  2. wow, what an amazing story of your ordeal

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