When Hurricane Hugo Rocked the Piedmont

Sep 17, 2019

Hurricane Hugo surprised South Carolinians as far inland as the Upstate in 1989.
Credit NOAA / Public Domain Image

On Sept. 21, 1989, a lot of people in the Piedmont went to bed before the storm arrived. They knew it was on its way; some even knew about it hitting the coast. But hurricane or no hurricane, hurricanes don’t barrel across states and then make their way north, so most people didn’t think much of what was to come.  

Most of those same people woke to a rude surprise. Hurricane Hugo did, in fact, shove its way across the state – along I-26 and then up I-77, like it was on a road trip to Rock Hill. By the time Hugo made its way out of South Carolina, the state had suffered $6 billion in damages. And while Charleston and the coast had gotten the worst of it, Hugo’s wrath also left York, Chester, and Lancaster counties with acres of felled and broken trees, hundreds downed lines, ripped-up infrastructure, and damaged property that took weeks to straighten out.

If it was your job back then to clean up the mess Hugo made, you worked and worked (and worked), probably for 16 or 18 hours a day. And if you weren’t charged with cleaning up, hear what it was like from five men who worked a week’s worth of hours every couple days to get power and utilities restored to a region left in the dark by what was then the costliest hurricane in decades.