Recently, the folks at Hurricaneville received a request from a visitor to the site to have some more information on Hurricane Hugo. So, we gave it some thought and realized that in light of the terrible devastation that was wrought on South Florida and Louisiana by Hurricane Andrew in August, 1992, Hurricane Hugo has been overlooked.
It will be ten years this August since Andrew struck Homestead, Florida with its 145 mph winds and 175 mph wind gusts, and that makes it 13 years since Hugo barreled into Charleston, South Carolina. Hugo exposed many cracks in the state of preparedness in South Carolina, but they have since made plenty of progress.
Hurricane Hugo was a strong Category Five Hurricane as it barreled through the Leeward islands, and raked the island of Puerto Rico with high winds and heavy rains during the first and second weeks of September, 1989. At this point, Hugo had winds as high as 160 mph. It was the most powerful hurricane to move through the Northeastern Caribbean in many years before Hurricane Luis ravaged the region in September, 1995.
After moving over Puerto Rico's northern half, which has quite rugged terrain, Hugo weakened, and seemed to have problems recovering upon re-entering the warmer waters of the Western Atlantic. With its winds hovering at 105 mph, which was only a strong Category Two Hurricane, Hugo wasn't given much thought as what it was about to next. However, between Hugo and its ultimate destination in South Carolina, was the very warm ocean current known as the Gulf Stream, which runs from the Florida Straits all the way up into the Canadian Maritimes.
Once Hugo entered the Gulf Stream, it exploded as its winds increased from 105 to nearly 140 mph over a period of 12 to 24 hours. Emergency Management personnel, who were originally looking at a strong Category Two Hurricane, were now scrambling to prepare for a very powerful Category Four Hurricane. Hugo eventually came ashore on the night of September 21, 1989 near Charleston in the coastal community of McClellanville, South Carolina with a storm surge of over 18 feet and winds near 140 mph.
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What some do not realize is that the same problems that existed prior to Hurricane Andrew's catastrophic devastation in South Florida, existed in coastal South Carolina prior to Hurricane Hugo. Building codes weren't enforced. As a matter of fact, a number of coastal counties in South Carolina didn't even have building inspectors to ensure that building regulations with regard to strong and powerful hurricanes were being adhered to. Problems in terms of evacuation also existed, and they continue today.
During Hurricane Floyd brush with the Southeast coast in September, 1999, the largest peacetime evacuation occurred from North Carolina to South Florida as some 3,000,000 people left their homes to safer places inland away from the storm's high winds, rain, and surge. While the evacuation was taking place, states such as South Carolina and Georgia reported a tremendous amount of confusion as emergency management personnel and travelers experienced difficulties during the mass exodus.
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However, South Carolina has made major strides in improving its preparedness since Hugo as it has tightened its building codes. As demonstrated on the Weather Channel's Danger's Edge in 1992, the new building codes and standards put in place after Hugo made homes better built with stronger supports that would be better able to withstand hurricane force winds, especially those of a storm such as Hugo.
More building inspectors have been deployed in coastal areas to ensure that these stricter codes are being enforced. Tremendous efforts have been made in the coastal city of Charleston were the city has recovered quite well since the disaster over a decade ago. Looks like South Carolina is back and this time they will be better prepared and equipped to handle another Hugo.
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