Myrtle Beach residents reflect on lessons learned from Hurricane Hugo

Hurricane Hugo: 25 Years Later
Hurricane Hugo on September 15, 1989. Source: Satellite image from NOAA
Hurricane Hugo on September 15, 1989. Source: Satellite image from NOAA

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Twenty-five years ago on September 21, Hurricane Hugo made landfall 90 miles away from Myrtle Beach, in Charleston. What made it so destructive in Myrtle Beach was the storm surge. In some places, up to 12-foot-high walls of water slammed the coast.

On a beautiful day September day, it's hard to look out onto the ocean and imagine a hurricane slamming the coast, but that's exactly what happened 25 years ago, destroying homes and businesses. Many people in Myrtle Beach remember it well.

The aerial footage of Hurricane Hugo in Myrtle Beach shows exactly how bad things were that fateful day.

Homes and businesses leveled. Water and wind battered trees, sending some crashing into cars. The piers were destroyed, but memories remain.

"I took the 11:00 bus the next morning to Colombia, South Carolina to stay with my brother and by 11, the wind was already blowing 40 miles per hour," says Myrtle Beach resident Leo White.

Tom Poole also remembers Hugo vividly: "My wife and I were getting married on September 6, 1989; we had made reservations at St. Thomas Virgin Islands for our honeymoon. At the time we were getting married, Hugo was hitting the Virgin Islands."

Most of the hurricanes that come our way travel parallel and scoot by the coast, but Hugo, with all of its fury, came in on a 90-degree angle, with wind speeds of up to 85-miles-per-hour in the Grand Strand. And worse: the storm surge.

"That storm surge was really the calling card for Hugo in the Grand Strand," says WMBF News Chief Meteorologist Jamie Arnold. "Places like Garden City, Surfside Beach - that's where we had double-digit surges, upwards of 10 feet. Just about every business on the ocean front was damaged or destroyed."

Buzz Plyer, the owner of The Gay Dolphin, a beach knick-knack store that has made its home along Ocean Boulevard since 1946, is no longer taking chances when it comes to hurricanes.

The Gay Dolphin was destroyed by Hurricane Hazel in 1954, and then it was severely damaged again in 1989 by Hugo. Buzz and a crew of men had put three-quarter-inch wood panels up along the exterior of the building to shield from Hugo, but it wasn't enough.

"We thought that we were in good shape, but the winds blew the roof off the building, tore the A/C off, and deposited it on the other side of the building," Plyer says.

When it was all said and done, Buzz had around half a million dollars in damages that took nine months to repair.

He's since invested in metal storm shutters, and says everyone needs to get ready for the next Big One.

"The overwhelming majority of people don't know what we are going to suffer," Plyer warns.

Securing your property, making an evacuation kit, learning your zone, and heeding forecasters' warnings - experts say preparation is key.

Twenty-seven people were killed in South Carolina from Hurricane Hugo, and the state saw $10 billion in damage.

"The take-away from this 25th anniversary, at least for me, is Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand gets hit on average every 23 years and here we are marking the anniversary: 25 years," Arnold says.

The hope is the lessons learned 25 years ago will keep us safe from another major storm, and you better believe another storm similar to Hugo is eventually going to strike.

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