Jack Daniel

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SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 19, 1989: Hurricane Hugo slams into the eastern coast September 19, 1989 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wind gusts of 140 mph and heavy rains ripped through the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, before striking land again in South Carolina on September 22. (Photo by Gary Williams/Getty Images)

For those of us that lived in the Carolina’s during Hurricane Hugo in 1989, it’s a memory that you’ll never forget. My memory of Hugo is similar to my memories of September 11th, 2001 and this current pandemic because as it’s happening, all you could think was “This can’t be happening?” and yet it was. In September of 1989, I was working as Program Director and afternoon host of WRFX, The Fox. My wife was 7 months pregnant with our second child, our daughter who will be 31 in November. I also remember that a storm called Hugo was increasing speed and heading up the eastern seaboard after devastating Puerto Rico. It was reported to be making landfall around Charleston, S.C. and as usual we expected rain bands to affect the Charlotte area, but being used to this, not many of us gave it much thought. Needless to say, in an unprecedented turn of events and I remember the weatherman saying so clearly, “two fronts on either side of Charleston were rotating like two giant fans and pulled HUGO right up the path from Charleston through Charlotte, otherwise the storm would have lost power and punch and ended up a heavy rain event.

On the eve of September 22, 1989 myself, my pregnant wife, and my 4 year old son slept in our half basement in Concord and didn’t know what to expect as this would be our first Hurricane. The winds howled all night and the rain came down in buckets and we lived in a wooded development with very tall pine trees all around. We dared not look out, but we knew that soon enough we could inspect the damage because we could hear it as it happened.

No power for 8 days for us, but some were without power for weeks. Next morning on September 23rd we moved limbs to be able to get out of the driveway as we were just curious what a hurricane coming through our town would look like. Pictures on TV and in magazines and newspapers didn’t do it justice. Stoplights and telephone poles down across roads, power lines laying across roads. They carried no electricity but it was still an eerie event. We visited my in-laws to see how they had fared. It was pretty much the same as us. No power, trees down, shingles missing, roofs off out buildings and businesses. I remember going to work later that day on-air at Classic Rock, “The Fox” and instead of playing music, we were mostly telling people where to get ice, batteries and “calling out” businesses that were price gouging. It was several weeks before things started to feel normal. I remember getting together with neighbors and emptying our freezers to cook food that would spoil if it wasn’t eaten. I remember having the realization that if anyone ever forecast a hurricane to come this far inland ever again, I would never question it. I remember before Hugo, a group of us at the radio station were saying “There’s no way a Hurricane can make it this far inland”. Mother Nature must’ve heard us and said “Hey, watch this”.

These were the before iphone days. No social media, no digital cameras. I wish I had more pictures and I took many, but they are lost in some box and I will surely find them when I don’t need them. Hurricane Hugo was a serious event. It claimed 61 lives and 1 is too many. It caught us by surprise but unlike 911, we were warned and just couldn’t fathom it could make it here. I did see people caring for their friends and their family’s like I had never seen before. People were feeding strangers and helping them repair their homes and cleaning up their yards. Be nice to see some of that caring these days. Hurricane Hugo, I still remember that feeling of helplessness until we could get through it.

Larry Sprinkle piece on the 30th Anniversary

Hugo’s Path 1989