Hurricane Hugo, 28 years ago today

Hurricane Hugo, 28 years ago today
Damage in Garden City
Damage in Garden City
Myrtle Beach oceanfront following Hugo.
Myrtle Beach oceanfront following Hugo.
Hurricane Hugo coming ashore near Charleston
Hurricane Hugo coming ashore near Charleston
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk after Hugo
Myrtle Beach Boardwalk after Hugo

. - MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Thursday marks 28 years since Hurricane Hugo devastated much of South Carolina.

Hugo produced the highest storm surge heights ever recorded along the U.S. East Coast, with storm surge reaching 20 feet at Bulls Bay, SC.

Storm surge along the Grand Strand was as high as 12 to 14 feet at the height of the storm. Hurricane-force wind gusts were felt as far inland as western North Carolina during the day on Sept. 22.

Many beach-front homes along the Grand Strand were destroyed, leaving numerous homes lying across the middle of Ocean Boulevard. Many residents were without power for nearly two weeks after Hugo. Damage estimates from the storm stand at $7 billion, with 49 lives lost as a direct result of the storm.

Most buildings in downtown Charleston sustained significant damage, but the worst destruction occurred in beach towns north of Charleston, such as Sullivan's Island and the Isle of Palms where the majority of homes were rendered uninhabitable due to the fact that this area received the strongest winds and highest 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 surge, upwards of 10 feet. Just about every business on the oceanfront 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. Plyer 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 said.

When it was all said and done, Plyer had around $500,000 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 said.

For famed Myrtle Beach photographer Jack Thompson, a thousand words are never enough to describe the destruction from Hugo.

"It was a surreal experience because you think you're walking through a dream and any minute you're going to wake up," Thompson said.

Thompson was one of the thousands of people in the south strand just before Hurricane Hugo hit land. The local photographer documented and even protected the before, during and after of it.

"I'm not leaving my negatives," Thompson recalled saying. "If the tidal wave comes, you'll find me in the vault."

Now 28 years later, his camera lens continues to tell the story.

"The thoughts go back to the power of Mother Nature, the power of the storm and the destruction," Thompson said.

This day is significant in more than one way for Thompson. It's the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, it's his birthday and it's officially Jack Thompson Day in Myrtle Beach.

That same power is something Horry County Emergency Management officials still thinks about to this day.

"There was not a lot of pre-planning that had taken place," said Randy Webster, director of Horry County Emergency Management.

According to Webster, the county was not ready for what was coming. He said planning and communication weren't up to par, and crews learned very quickly things needed to improve.

"It changed everything in terms of how we evacuate, how we shelter, setting up evacuation zones and the whole thing that you see today," Webster said.

Now, he said evacuation plans are different, communication is better, and things like a re-entry plan are possible. Webster said it's all linked to Hugo, because that storm changed everything.

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