Journalism History- Historic News Images

Hurricane Hugo: Covering a Disaster

Radar view of HugoJust before midnight on September 22, 1989, Hurricane Hugo swept toward the shore of South Carolina. As it battered the Caribbean earlier, Hugo was a category five hurricane, with sustained winds as high as 190 miles an hour. Some 37 people were killed and 45,000 people were left homeless in the islands with billions of dollars of damage to homes and property. One of the most destructive hurricanes in history was heading for Charleston, and I was heading there too.

Just hours before, I had flown into Charleston on one of the last planes in before the storm. With reporter Dave Barker, photographer Chuck Lampe, satellite truck operator Terry Johnston, I produced television news coverage for WCNC in Charlotte and NBC stations nationwide. Little did we know what to expect.

Bridge knocked offHugo hit Charleston with winds of 135 miles an hour, ocean waves sweeping inland as much as 20 feet above normal. Hundreds of boats littered the streets miles inland, bridges were swept off their pilings, homes were destroyed. As we were doing a live television broadcast just after 11 p.m., our own truck was smashed as a tree was uprooted and landed on the cab. We spent the night in the truck, and I was never so scared. The power of the storm was awesome, the large truck was rocking like a boat on heavy seas. The fury of nature at such times makes you realize just how small and vulnerable you are.

The storm damage cost an estimated $7 billion. Little did we realize that while we were covering the landfall of the storm, Hugo would move inland and batter our own homes in Charlotte, NC with tropical storm force winds. The city was without power, some homes for weeks, and the TV station was knocked off the air. We rode home three days later in a Satellite truck with no windshield, along the way, viewing scenes of blown down trees and the paths of small tornados, spun off by the hurricane. When I got home, the roof of my apartment was smashed by trees, the windows blown in, the cats hiding and scared.

For a clip of our television coverage of Hurricane Hugo, click here. Home


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