‘It was really like a war zone': Remembering Hurricane Hugo’s impact to the Pee Dee

Pee Dee remembers Hurricane Hugo

FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - We are still in the middle of hurricane season as we roll into a new month.

While we continue to keep an eye out on future storms, we often look back to past ones. We hear about the stories and impacts of hurricanes here in the Grand Strand but what about the Pee Dee? For many in Florence and Darlington counties, there is one hurricane they will never forget.

Hurricane Hugo, which impacted the Carolinas 30 years ago, was felt as far inland as Charlotte, N.C. In the Pee Dee, hurricane-force winds caused plenty of damage. It’s a storm they saw coming days ahead of time.

“We knew it was coming. We knew it was going to be dangerous,” said former Darlington Mayor Ronnie Ward.

“I guess I was naive back then, I didn’t really think it was going to be that bad,” said Rocky Pearce, the former mayor of Florence when Hugo impacted the city back in 1989.

Remembering Hurricane Hugo 30 Years Later
Remembering Hurricane Hugo 30 Years Later (Source: WMBF)

Hugo was a surprise, with greater impacts than anticipated in Florence County. Sheriff Billy Barnes and Pearce both recall the devastation as the storm moved through the Pee Dee.

"We ended up going in the middle of the night having to take people that had come from the beach out of the motels because the roofs were coming off the motels," said Barnes.

"That's when you really heard of the trees crashing, the limbs hitting the roofs and that sort of thing. It was a scary time," said Pearce.

When describing the winds, Pearce said it sounded loud, like a train.

“It sounded like a train that was right outside your window. You know, just for an extended time. You know, that kind of wears you down emotionally too, thinking ‘Wow, how long will this really last?’” said Pearce.

Just to the north, Darlington County was starting to hear the wind and the rain. Ward described what it looked like as the storm moved through.

“Trees were down everywhere, power was out, and you couldn’t even drive out of the neighborhood,” he said.

“Trees were falling so bad that in the middle of the storm, I had to get on the radio and get the deputies to find an open parking lot somewhere to hunker down in until it passed to keep from getting hit by a tree because there were that many trees falling all over the county," Barnes said. "It was just devastating. I went up in a helicopter the day after the hurricane to kind of look at the damage around the county and it was really like a war zone from the trees and buildings that were destroyed.”

Despite all of the damage Hugo left, it was still no match for the communities’ support. People rallied together, all just to move forward day by day.

Here are just a few photos from Hurricane Hugo, 30 years later.
Here are just a few photos from Hurricane Hugo, 30 years later. (Source: WMBF)

“When adversity strikes, that brings out the best in people,” said Pearce. “Everyone was in a bit of a state of shock but people are resilient and helpful and when you have disasters, people really come to the aide of their neighbors and their friends. Anybody that was able and had a chainsaw and a truck was out working the next day.”

“Everybody pulled together; it was a community effort. It had to be or we would have never gotten straight,” said Barnes.

All three current and past leaders agreed on one thing: Hurricane Hugo, even after 30 years, is a storm they will never forget.

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