Hurricane Hugo - The 25th Anniversary

Hurricane Hugo - The 25th Anniversary

Hurricane Hugo made landfall north of Charleston Harbor on the South Carolina coast the night of Sept. 21, 1989, affecting an estimated 1.8 million people. Presidential declarations were issued for 24 counties seeking federal disaster assistance.  Hugo arrived just before midnight with estimated maximum sustained wind of 138 miles per hour. The eye of the Category 4 hurricane was 30 nautical miles wide, with storm surge flooding 15-20 feet above normal. It cut a path through the state just north of Charleston and continued inland to Lake Moultrie and west of Sumter, through Chester and York counties and by 5 a.m. was in the area of Charlotte, N.C.  

Hugo2The primary coastal damage was caused by storm surge flooding, surge-related erosion, wave action and high winds with rainfall. Inland counties also received unexpected high winds and torrential rains. Falling trees and high winds broke power lines, crushed cars, and blocked roads while also breaking windows, peeling roofs, destroying mobile homes and causing widespread damages to homes and buildings. Many areas lost utilities for up to two weeks.

Despite conditions, only two tornadoes were confirmed: a small tornado apparently developed in western Sumter County and another one near Kershaw in Lancaster County.  Counties that were declared disasters were Berkeley, Calhoun, Charleston, Cherokee, Chester, Chesterfield, Clarendon, Colleton, Darlington, Dorchester, Fairfield, Florence, Georgetown, Horry, Kershaw, Lancaster, Lee, Marion, Marlboro, Orangeburg, Richland, Sumter, Williamsburg, and York.  

Hurricane Hugo was the most severe hurricane to strike South Carolina the 20th century. Hurricane Hazel in October 1954 brought winds of 106 miles an hour and tides of up to 16.9 feet. Before Hugo, Hurricane David in 1979 was the last storm to hit South Carolina.

Hurricane Hugo

In its wake, Hugo left:

  • 13 directly related deaths, 22 indirect deaths, and several hundred injuries
  • $6.5 billion in damages
  • 264,000 evacuated from their homes in eight counties
  • 270,000 temporarily unemployed
  • 60,000 left homeless
  • 54,000 state residents seeking disaster assistance

 Other response actions required because of Hugo were:

  • The Red Cross opened 191 shelters that housed 89,968 people at the height of the evacuation. Red Cross workers provided mass feeding in shelters and on mobile feeding routes for 30 days.
  • The Salvation Army provided more than 500,000 meals and 338,000 food boxes. More than 4,000 volunteers and employees with the Salvation Army worked nearly 60,000 hours helping more than 600,000 storm survivors.  
  • Approximately 6,317 S.C. National Guard Members supported the Hurricane Hugo response, which was 46% of the total state strength in 1989. 
  • $62 million in food stamps were issued to more than 200,000 households An initial effort to rebuild dunes cost the state and federal governments $3.8 million.
  • More than 3,000 active duty service members were employed in support and execution of assigned tasks.
  • 30 assistance centers were established to receive applications for loans, grants, housing and other types of needs. 
  • The forest communities lost more than 6.7 billion board feet in timber valued at $1.04 billion. The damaged timber, concentrated on 4.5 million acres, represented 36 percent of the state’s woodlands.
  • Primary and secondary schools received $55.6 million in damages. Crop damages topped $2 billion.  

SCEMD estimates that a storm of similar intensity on the same path as Hugo would could potentially require an evacuation of 1.2 million people in South Carolina, would cause more than $16.6 billion in damages and destroy more than 21,000 homes statewide today.


Throughout this hurricane season, SCEMD will be highlighting Hugo’s impacts and changes since that night in 1989 via social feeds using #HUGO25.  We encourage everyone to join the conversation, share Hugo memories and safety tips via Facebook (, Twitter ( and any our our social feeds (  You can also send us your story to  


The South Carolina Hurricane Guide

Emergency Planning for Your Family

State of South Carolina Hurricane Plan

Hurricane Hugo - Your Stories
Laura Ybarra Kane "I was only 4yrs old and I remember that I slept through it (we lived in Sumter) and didn't really know what was going on but I do remember the aftermath and devastation."
Pauline Redmond "While on shut down in Hilton Head thinking we where going to be hit on dying inside as Hugo took that last jolt and head to Charleston where my home and husband was alone with our house. Died inside when we lost contact of Charleston EOC knew it was bad and do nothing for my family and friends."
Johnny Burns Jr. "I was living in florence sc when it came thru"
Donna Lambert Grinnell "I was away at college in NY...At first class, they made the announcement of HUGO hitting SC, not realizing someone in class could be from there...It was a very scary day as I could not get through to see if my family was okay."

Ontario Goss "I was in my uncle house with my mom sister and my two nieces I slept though it."
Earl Jones  "16 living in sumter, I remember that night like it was yesterday. When the eye passed over our house around 2 we were all outside... then the wind picked up. For the next several hours it sounded like we were in a washing machine. Went out the next morning and it looked like we had been bombed, it was very bad. All the devastating losses and damage, one thing that struck me was how clear and blue the sky was after the storm."
Melisa Flake "I remember that day. I was 7 I know we slept in the hallway. My good friends house right down the road had a tree go through it. Our house was fine. So crazy the hit and miss of the storm. There was alot on the street. U could not even get to the school right down the road by car"
David A. Gerancher "We are overdue...."
Monica G. Blunt "I was in college in Orangeburg. I was worried about my family In Williamsburg County. The next day, it took 8 hours to contact them."
Moses Cutter "I was a member of Traffic Safety Patrol and was out helping the fire dept during the storm."
Kathy Tedder Matthews  "I remember the aftermath...slept through the storm..I was 12"
Shane Evans  "I slept through the whole thing. I was 3 years old."
Harvin Bedenbaugh  "My first childhood memory is from that night. Never forget!"
Patrick Bean "Never forget."
Patty Flynn  "Wow, I remember this storm, scary."
Cathryn Jones  "25 years. Time has gone by fast!!"
Deborah Mungo Huddleston  "I was paying attention to the news and had an idea it would be rough. Secured stuff around the yard, etc. My son was a teen and wanted to accompany a friend to Darlington but I said no. Would never have believed the extent of the damage. It made me be acutely aware of being ready for any situation.  An experience I'll never forget."
Cammy Jeffcoat Weber  "I remember that day all to well"
Jone Moore Gault  "It was a time I won't ever forget.. the following days of trying to get to people to help them recover.. the devastation that took place not only on the coast but came up into the state as well.. we drove down Highway 9 to go to Myrtle Beach for a "water trip" to take water down to residents.. and to see the trees that had been snapped off all along the road.. it was like little toothpicks were sitting along the side of the road where massive trees had once been.. Once we got to the beaches...there were houses that had been picked up and moved into the road, yet one house was untouched.. half of a house was in one location, and the other half we never saw. On our next water trip we went to Charleston, it was heartbreaking...the bridge to our precious Sullivan's Island was sideways."
Amanda Cherry  "I lost my grandfather during this storm....I will never forget! Rock Hill, S.C."
Angela Sorlie Benjamin  "I was a freshman at CoC, from Clemson. Went home the day or the day before it hit....gas lines were crazy, and the highway too (of course.) The next day in Clemson, schools were closed because winds from the storm knocked down trees that far in. It was weeks before we were allowed back to school, and things were still looking they would for quite a while.... yeah, it was something alright."
Patrick Bean  "I was 12 Hugo hit 2 days before my Birthday...worst birthday I ever had."
Barry Roberts  "I lived in North Charleston during this storm. I will never forget it."
Patti Honeycutt  "I remember this. Dark and had no idea what was taking place outside."
Caroline Heyward Jenkins  "Hugo was HUGE, I always remember that."
Gregory Smith  "Wow, I'd forgotten how it just obliterated everything on the map."
Wayne Long Jr.  "I was in Pensacola, FL going to a USN school sitting in a lobby watching a big TV w/ CNN live on, later as it came over my hometown of Rock Hill, SC...I was thinking...Why do they still have as a Cat 1 ? uh ohhhhhh."
Wolfy Wolf  "Me and my family did... my girls were 2 and 5 and mad that there was no TV. My exwife woke me up and told me the hurricane was here about 2AM and I said What do you want me to do about it? Tell it to stop? .... Didnt go over too good.. We were in Albemarle NC at the time and watched the eye go over, had fun watching transformers and lines pop and blow... I worked for Locust Lumber in Locust NC at the time, and spent WEEKS delivering lumber and tin for poultry houses for a 75 mile radius around... There are still trees down in the woods from Hugo"
Dale Ellen Usher  "Hope we never go thru anything like that again in our life time."
Bonnie Kay "Our neighbors laughed at us when we packed up the baby, clothes, and important things and left the Myrtle Beach/Conway area. They weren't laughing when we returned home after Hugo. That darn storm followed us almost to my parents' home in NC!"
Melissa Kuhnell Haynes "Crazy to think how much the technology has changed since then!"
Regina Cohen "I was living in Hanahan and working at Charleston Naval Shipyard at the time. I will never forget living through that nightmare. No lights or phones for weeks."
Jamie Breece Thompson  "Brings back so many memories from when I was a scared/excited 8 year old."
ShanCarm Bilton  "Remember Hugo very well. I was 9 years old & knew then that I was experiencing something life changing."
Elaine Raines  "We braved the mighty Hugo! I'll NEVER forget! Nor will anyone else who stayed!"
Jeff Tammy Schueler  "I remember being without electricity for two months after hurricane Hugo. We lived in St Stephen, SC past Charleston. We took baths in the lake and woke up to the sound of chainsaws every morning. It took us two days to cut our way to the town of St Stephen after the hurricane. I survived Hurricaine Hugo !! ; )"
Julie Gooding "Remember it well."
Ricky Sowell  "You can still see the affects at congaree national park. I remember it even though I was only three."
Tammie Smith Richardson  "I worked the aftermath off Hugo It was a life changing experience."
Vickie Kelley Foxx  "Remember Hugo well. In upstate we felt effects."
Ann Shirley Blythe  "That event forever turned me against camping as an adult. Two weeks without electricity.... No thank you!!"
Danielle Higgins Winston  "My dad was a shrimper out of Rockville. He and a few of his fellow shrimpers stayed with their boats during the storm. They ran all the boats aground together up in a creek and used their chains to tie themselves together and to trees. They had some pretty harrowing moments but thankfully made it through. The rest of our family stayed home on Johns Island (which was a heavily wooded 3 acre lot). My mother cracked open each window a tiny bit to keep them from blowing out. You could hear trees snapping and falling all around us and the smell of pine was so strong. We crouched in doorways under furniture cushions as one tree came through into the kitchen. To this day the smell of pine makes me sick to my stomach. #Hugo25"
Deaconess Selena Ruth Smith  "I became a vegetarian because of Hugo. I despised eating sardines and Vienna sausages."
Robert Hoover  "Was living in Ridgeway SC working at the gold mine had to be one of the worst weeks ever."
Laura Morford-Byrd  "I was 5. Hurricane Hugo knocked a giant tree over that barely missed our house but totally smashed my swing set. That's what I remember most. Along with the power being out forever and no school for a couple weeks."
Ruby Boone Cunningham  "My mother was in hospital in Columbia they only had emergency power ...she passed away on Saturday morning we only had generator power at dad & moms home for home visitation very bad times."
Earl Jones  "Having lived through Camille in Biloxi, my mom had us fill the tubs, tape the windows all kinds of prep stuff. We thought it was overkill living in sumter some 120 miles from the coast. Boy were we wrong the wind it sounded like an automatic car wash.  My aunt and uncle lived in a trailer next door so they came to our house around 12 or 1 in the morning. No sooner than they came in, before they could get the door closed all the way the largest pine we had landed right on that porch, blocking the door. In all every tree we lost was uprooted, not snapped. Everyone survived but our street looked like a war zone? The street was impassable, the power was out nearly a month, and for 2 weeks you had to hoof it to the end of the street to get out. I certainly don't wish that on anyone.... "
Darra Ballance  "I was a student at the College of Charleston and evacuated back home to Bamberg. Our family vacation home on Folly Beach was wiped off the lot (it was at the end of Atlantic Ave.). My parents found part of a kitchen cabinet about a block away--the cabinet was still locked with some of our unbroken dishes in it. After I came back to school I volunteered with the Red Cross one weekend and met people who lost everything. I think I still have a T-shirt with the broken bridge photo on it."
Francis Tubolino  "Worked at SCEMD, and was sent to Colleton County the day before. Helped county director answer calls and listen to radio traffic that night. HAM radio operators reported that Charleston EOC had roof blown off, and everyone had evacuated to another building during Eye of Storm. Drove around County after landfall, with huge lamp looking at destruction. Next morning, called back up to Columbia, told to get good night rest, and was sent to Manning, SC to assist Clarendon County for three weeks. After my return, worked in State EOC for numerous weeks, mainly to coordinate donation effort."
Jess Epley  "My house was one of the only ones to get damage in greenville. The left overs of hugo hit and a huge oak tree came crashing down on our porch and through the window in my room. I was only 5 and thankfully my mom had made me sleep with them that night because we expected winds."
Stephanie Topps Jeffcoat  "My mother passed from a tragic cleanup accident on September 30, 1989....I was 5 and my sister was 4. This year I will be mourning and celebrating, the loss of mother and birth of my daughter. She will be 1 on the 25th anniversary   #Hugo25"
Randall Atkinson  "This hit land 9 days after I was born. I survived for 25 years!! Hopefully many more, woooooh!!"
Diane Thompson  "Many of my family in Saint Stephen South Carolina survived Hugo. It's been 25 years ago September 21st 1989. Please share your stories. Need updates on then and how your recovered."
Janice Scroggs Taylor  "In Lexington, we listened to a radio station out of Charleston - they were talking with an older woman who was stranded in downtown Charleston. We listened until the station was knocked off the air. At that time, we knew the winds had hit St. George. Later on, we heard that the announcer finally told the woman somebody was coming, just to keep her calm. By that point a rescue wasn't possible. I will always wonder what happened to her."
Elizabeth Clyburn  "4th power...sitting in the dark hallway listening to the emergency radio and hearing trees fall all around the house."
Win Ott  "I remember sitting on the steps of Preston Dormitory at USC, watching transformers blow as the storm moved in. The next day was one of incredible beauty. The air was crystal clear, the sky a brilliant blue, with long, ragged, clouds tearing past. It was gorgeous, until you looked down at all the trees and great oak limbs strewn over the Horseshoe."
James Brockman  "We just outside Charlotte in Rock Hill and had 90 mile an hour winds.  Tore this town up we 180 from Charleston.  No phone for 2 weeks and no power for a week.  Plus our dog had to go out and bout got blown away.OMG"
Jackie Smith Scott  "In Elloree, SC, I remember being huddled in my mother in law's hallway for hours while we listened to one pine tree after another fall in her yard. But none hit the house and we were all ok! Scary night I won't ever forget."
Wayne Long Jr.  "This is a very LONG share of my memory. A Long time ago. When Hurricane Hugo eventually hit South Carolina in 1989, I was in the US Navy going to C school for Electronic Warfare in Pensacola, FL. I watched a large screen TV that night in the main lobby for "Check In/outs."  As I watched CNN Live coverage, I remember watching their Radar on TV as Hugo still was classified as a Hurricane when it came over my hometown of Rock Hill, SC ( just below Charlotte, NC ) . I called home on a pay phone in the lobby to my Mother in the middle of the night. I was thinking, She is going to be angry at me waking her up. She answered the phone and I hung up with out saying a word to her. When the sun arose, I called her again. Little did I know, when she answered the phone in the first call, She had drug the Phone into the hall way and was laying down with the dog on the leash in case the house blew away. She told me, the Attic door in the hallway was bouncing up and down as the wind flew through the attic. I drove home immediately from Pensacola, FL to Rock Hill, SC. The house was ok, not much damage, but the whole area was a mess. I cleaned up the yard with out much work. The street had tree's down every where. There was no electricity for over 3 days in my neighbor hood, other area's were much worse. I don't remember how I heard, but the local Red Cross needed emergency volunteers to drive around for Damage Assesment . I Volunteered with only a short class of training. I drove around with another Volunteer with Red Cross stickers on my car windows all over our assigned area of York County making check marks on paper of what we saw and counting how many trees were on houses and more such damage. It was pretty bad. Later, I drove around on my own and took some pictures, that I will try to post later. I can't remember it all, but, I think that I was only in town for a little over a day and then drove back to my USN school in Pensacola, FL. #SCTWEETS  #Hugo25"
HugoStorypic1    HugoStorypic2    HugoStorypic3
Philip Taylor  "I worked all night with a fellow dj keeping Newberry informed with Hurricane Hugo status updates on WKDK 1240AM!"
Michelle Lanigan  "I lived in the Hopkins/Eastover area in SC. I was a senior in HS. Listened to a Charleston radio station until the back wall of the storm hit them. We lost power and stayed that way for 2 weeks. We took our chain saw with us and had to cut out way out of our driveway and through numerous trees across the road going back to town (Columbia)"
Pauline Redmond  "I was working for Beaufort EMS going on day three we had evaced the hospital and nursing home before land fall. Arguing with my mother in law to take the kids to Columbia because I knew this was going to be bad as we hunkered down with the fire department from hilton head to wait the storm out I realized my husband and home was going to be hit in Charleston. The next morning I left heading home 110 miles I hit I 95 and got into an endless line of trucks from power companies for the slow ride home I cried as I realized how bad it was to have that much of a response and unable get answer because the phones out. Relieved when reached home through the destroyed neighborhood I see my husband in the yard and our house minor damage."
SCEMD Home Page

Stay Connected

Connect to all @SCEMD Social Media

SCEMD on Facebook  @SCEMD on Twitter  SCEMD on YouTube  SCEMD on Instagram

Sign up for CodeRED Emergency Alerts

Click Here for State Government Closings and Delays