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Hurricane Hugo 30th anniversary: Remembering the storm all others are compared to

In the fall of 1989, Hurricane Hugo set its sights on the Carolinas. It made landfall near Charleston, leaving catastrophic damage all the way to Charlotte.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The night before Hugo was expected to impact the Carolinas, NBC Charlotte’s Larry Sprinkle said he was on his way home from a station event when his instincts told him to check on the status of the storm. 

After the system made landfall near Charleston, S.C., it began to work its way inland. This immediately raised the level of concern. 

"Hurricanes don't come this far inland," he said. "They don't come to Charlotte, North Carolina. Well, they hadn't until then."

Sprinkle recalled being on the air as the storm battered the Queen City and the surrounding area when a huge part of the ceiling collapsed. 

“There was a 500-pound chunk of ceiling material that fell maybe 15 feet away from me,” recalled Sprinkle, who crawled on his hands and knees from the studio after the collapse. 

“Our anchor at the time, Rick Jackson, said, 'We’ll come back to Larry in a moment,' but there was a just an empty chair where I had been sitting," he said. "It took me less than thirty seconds to crawl on my hands and knees, out of the studio, and into the hallway.”

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime event,” Sprinkle continued. “I remember doing weather segments outside and you could hear trees falling in the woods outside the station. You could see the bright blue flash of transformers exploding, then you’d just see darkness as the power went out down the street.” 

Credit: AP
Horry County police officer Jamie Thompkins takes a lonely walk down Ocean Front Road in Garden City Beach, S.C., Sept. 23, 1989, after Hurricane Hugo hit the town and left heavy damage behind. (AP Photo/Bob Jordan)

The storm smashed windows in many of uptown's skyscrapers and even destroyed some buildings. 

According to the Hurricane Severity Index, Hugo was the third-worst storm in modern history after making landfall as a Category 4 monster hurricane, with wind speeds well over 140 mph. 

As the storm made its way through the Charlotte metro, average wind speeds were still in the Category 1 range with gusts up to 90 mph. 

Billions of dollars in damage was done, with Hugo destroying 80,000 trees as it tore through the Piedmont.


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