24 Hours of Hugo: Former city manager recalls city's response to - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

24 Hours of Hugo: Former city manager recalls city's response to 1989 hurricane

(Source: WMBF News) (Source: WMBF News)

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Friday marks 28 years since Hurricane Hugo made landfall in South Carolina. It's a storm that left its mark on our coast, and changed the way we respond to tropical weather.

Tom Leath was the Myrtle Beach city manager at the time, with less than two years on the job. He spoke to WMBF News Friday morning to take us through 24 hours of Hugo, from the evening before it struck, through the following afternoon.

Below is the transcript of Leath’s interview:

We knew it was coming. We knew it was bad. We had made our preparations as best we could.

The night the storm hit, we were in the police emergency operations center, on Oak Street. And we were very much afraid at that time that we were going to be the bulls eye of that storm, category 4, and so we were talking about actually leaving and moving over to Conway and moving back in the morning. At about 8 o'clock I believe, right after it got dark, we talked to the National Weather Service in Wilmington. They said, ‘Well, it's going to go probably south of you, you should be okay.’ And so we elected to stay.

And after about you know 2 or 3 in the morning, you've sort of gone out into the breezeway with the wind, you've done about all that  you can do and we tried to get some sleep, because we knew the next day we were obviously going to be busy.

The chief and I at first light - the then police chief - went out, made our way to the beach.

I remember just standing there. The road itself, Ocean Boulevard, the cabana section was completely torn up. The cabanas were gone. The beach was basically flat as a pancake. Most of the beach sand and debris was on the other side of Ocean Boulevard there, the over wash went all the way across. And I remember standing there thinking, ‘Oh my God. What are we going to do?’ And it almost makes you want to cry because you see all of this devastation. But then you realize, okay we're in charge here. We don't have time to cry.

The first thing we did is we had city crews out doing their job as fast as we could get them out there. We were getting storm debris out of the way. We were getting storm debris picked up and moved, taken away from people's front yards, literally when the winds were dying down. Because we wanted to show that we're out here, we're helping you. You need to work. We need to work. Let's get this thing done.

There is no, ‘Okay we need a break now.’ It's see you tomorrow, first light and start this all over again.

Leath said it was like that for 16 days in a row, working sun up to sun down. He said one of the biggest difficulties in the days after the storm was getting people back to Myrtle Beach. It was an effort that reshaped how Horry County handles evacuations and re-entry to this day.

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