Track of Hurricane Hugo.

Human Impact

The Hugomobile: A car sculpture made from logs from trees downed by Hugo.

Ron Kuhn, NOAA.

Click this image to view an archive of 31 Hugo photographs from the Piedmont.

Homes Destroyed
or Damaged
Charleston, SC
Myrtle Beach, SC
Sumter, SC
Charlotte, NC
Columbia, SC

Jeff Masters was one of the first to face the dangerous strength of Hurricane Hugo. Masters was the flight director on the NOAA hurricane hunter aircraft sent to fly into Hugo and collect weather data. Based on satellite images, forecasters thought Hugo’s winds were blowing at 125 mph. But when they arrived, Masters and the crew found that Hugo was actually a Category Five hurricane with winds at 185 mph. Violent gusts tossed the airplane about, nearly plunging it into the raging ocean below. Finally, the pilots managed to fly the plane into the calm of Hugo’s eye. There, they dumped 15,000 pounds of fuel and were able to escape by flying above the worst of the storm clouds. Jeff Masters decided never to fly in a hurricane hunter again.

Once on land, Hugo threatened and took even more lives. After killing 41 people and destroying thousands of homes in the Caribbean, Hugo made landfall near Charleston, SC. Hugo’s high speed and intensity spread the storm’s devastation as far inland as Charlotte, NC. In the Carolinas, another 50 people were killed and tens of thousands lost their homes.

Families in Charlotte huddled together has their world literally came crashing down around them. Large, ancient trees fell all around the city, splitting houses, flattening cars, and injuring people. Karen Geiger was pinned for two hours when a tree crashed through her bathroom at 2:30 in the morning. She had a crushed foot, a ruptured spleen, broken ribs and pelvis, and a collapsed lung.

Karen spent 30 days in the hospital and months in physical therapy, but she survived. Others were less fortunate. Rhonda Ard thought her family was safe; they had only two trees in their yard. But at 3:05 am, one of those trees fell on their house and claimed the life of Rhonda’s infant son, Courtney.

After the storm, amid their grief, residents began cleaning up. Fallen trees and down power lines were everywhere. Injuries from chainsaws and live wires were common. Elmer Horton, who had been desperately awaiting a heart transplant, finally received one from someone who was electrocuted during the cleanup.

For most people, however, the problem was not enough electricity. In Charlotte, 98% of the residents were without power. In some areas, people went without power for up to 18 days as thousands of workers from Duke Energy Company worked double shifts and spent weeks away from their families repairing thousands of utility poles and hundreds of miles of power cables.

These are only a few of the human stories experienced during the fury of Hurricane Hugo. You can read more about Jeff, Karen, Rhonda, Elmer, and others in an article written by Elizabeth Leland of the Charlotte Observer.

All dollar amounts have been adjusted for inflation as of 2009.