Hurricane Hugo approaches the Leeward Islands on this day in 1989. Over the next 12 days, Hugo would kill 75 people from the island of Guadeloupe to South Carolina.
Beginning as a thunderstorm that formed off the west coast of Africa on September 9, the storm slowly gathered strength as it moved across the Atlantic Ocean. It attained hurricane status on September 13 and two days later was a full-blown Category 5 storm with wind gusts of up to 190 miles per hour.
On September 16, Guadeloupe bore the full brunt of Hugo’s 140-mph sustained winds. About half of the town of Point-a-Pitre was destroyed, four people were killed and 84 others were seriously injured. On Monserrat, 10 people lost their lives and $100 million in damages were incurred due to Hugo.
On September 18, Hugo slammed into the Virgin Islands. Ninety percent of the buildings in St. Croix were damaged. Ten people died and $200 million in damages were suffered, while phone service there was not restored until the following March. St. Thomas, however, was spared serious destruction.
Hugo’s next target was Puerto Rico, where its powerful winds and rain killed 22 people. Thirty-five towns lost electricity and water service and 10,000 people were left homeless. The hurricane then moved west toward the North American coast; it was a Category 4 storm when it reached Charleston, South Carolina. Already, nearly 200,000 people had evacuated Charleston by order of the government, which proved fortunate when almost half of the homes there suffered serious damage. A 13-foot storm surge devastated the coastal area and killed six people. Heavy winds also killed another seven people in other parts of the state.
The environmental toll in the Carolinas was severe. The storm caused extensive beach erosion and one national forest lost about 70 percent of its trees. In the United States alone, damages from Hugo reached $5 billion.