Almost everyone who lived in the Southeast back in 1989 remembers Hurricane Hugo.
It was a storm like no other.
Hurricane Hugo made landfall in Charleston, S.C., on Sept. 22, 1989. The Category 4 storm with estimated winds of 135 to 140 mph brought $7 billion in damage, according to the Greenville News.
This massive storm was responsible for 49 deaths directly related to the storm, including 26 people killed in the U.S., according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
A total of about 90,000 people were sheltered in both South Carolina and North Carolina, and nearly 700,000 Duke Energy customers were left without power for up to three weeks, the Greenville, S.C., newspaper reported.
That’s why longtime residents of the Carolinas take hurricanes very seriously.
While some folks in Florida and even some residents in Louisiana still refuse to leave their homes during major hurricanes and even throw “hurricane parties” with cocktails and candles, most Carolina natives know that hurricanes aren’t a joke.
They are not a party.
So when Hurricane Florence, whose winds reached Category 4 earlier this week, headed towards the coastline of both South Carolina and North Carolina, residents quickly hit the roadways and headed inland.
They weren’t going to take any chances.
For state and federal officials, it’s difficult to prepare for hurricanes.
No matter what their decisions are throughout the storm, the public often criticizes their actions.
Who can forget in 2016 when Hurricane Matthew barreled up the East Coast and then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal took two different approaches.
Three days before Matthew struck, Haley announced staggered evacuations for coastal counties while calling for the reversal of the eastbound lanes on Interstate 26 to avoid clogging the highway with residents leaving the Charleston area.
The S.C. governor urged residents to travel at least 100 miles inland to be safe from the storm. Of the estimated 1.1 million people asked to evacuate, about one-third left their homes.
And Haley’s steadfast warnings earned her serious praise throughout the Palmetto State.
“Observers hailed Haley’s early decision to evacuate residents along the South Carolina coast and for repeatedly keeping the public updated as the situation developed, usually twice a day,” wrote the Post and Courier in 2016. “The storm is the third time in as many years that Haley has made decisions from the state’s command center in West Columbia during a crisis. She was credited for deftly overseeing ice storms in 2014 and record flooding last year.”
Storm watchers also described Haley as doing a “great job executing the disaster plan and listening to her advisors while sending a clear and consistent message of voicing the dangers of the hurricane.”
While Hurricane Matthew did not have near the devastating impact on the East Coast that many feared, the South Carolina coast still suffered severe damage from flooding.
Over here in Georgia, the reviews of Gov. Deal were quite different.
“Hundreds of documents obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an Open Records Act request show a frenzy of activity as state officials prepared to move inmates, ready road-clearing equipment and evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from the Category 2 storm,” the Atlanta newspaper reported. “Staffers were besieged with last-minute advice from other emergency experts. … Unsubstantiated rumors — including an erroneous report of eight dead homeless people — mixed in with the official reports.”
The Atlanta newspaper did not paint a pretty picture.
Before the hurricane, Deal had ordered six southeast counties in Georgia to be evacuated.
“Shortly after the storm raked Georgia, leaving four dead and tens of millions of dollars in damage in its wake, there was apparent turmoil among the Georgia Emergency Management Agency’s top staff,” the newspaper reported. “Clint Perkins, GEMA’s state operations center director, emailed the staff his thanks days after the storm passed in what appeared to be a farewell note. … And Jim Butterworth, tapped by Gov. Nathan Deal about two years ago to head the agency, sent word shortly after the storm that he was leaving for a private-sector job.”
After the storm, Deal admitted there were a few concerns with Georgia’s response, even though he deemed the state’s actions as “exceptional.”
“That’s not to say we didn’t have problems,” Deal told the newspaper, noting the state suffered four deaths from falling trees. “But we tried to give as much warning to encourage people to evacuate the most prone areas. Overall, we had great cooperation from the residents of those areas.”
As this Insider is hitting the stands, Hurricane Florence will likely be hitting the Carolina coast.
Augustans can only pray that most coastal residents listened to elected officials and got out of harm’s way, because the Southeast hopes to never see a storm like Hurricane Hugo ever again.
And if locals come across hurricane evacuees in the Augusta area, please lend them a helping hand this week.
After all, we are all neighbors.