On September 13th of 1989, a deadly Cape Verde-type of storm called Hurricane Hugo approached the Caribbean's Leeward Islands. When the Category 4 hurricane hit, it resulted in the deaths of roughly 75 people over the next twelve days, from the island of Guadalupe all the way to the Carolinas. By the evening of September 22nd, Hugo had become an extratropical cyclone, which produces rapid changes in temperature, along with other unpredictable occurrences.
The unfair weather had started as a thunderstorm that formed off the western coast of Africa on September 9th. At the time, it was a weather condition not even considered serious enough to be given a name. But the storm gained strength as it moved steadily across the Atlantic Ocean for many thousand miles. Two days after Hugo had attained hurricane status, wind gusts were measured at up to 190 miles an hour, with sustained winds of up to 140 miles an hour.
The most severely affected areas were Guadalupe (where the hurricane damaged about a third of the buildings), Puerto Rico (where damage was severe in the east, and the agricultural sector was destroyed), North Carolina (where there was one fatality and about a billion dollars in property damage), and South Carolina, to name a few. The coast of South Carolina was severely damaged, with many homes destroyed, but residents had already been evacuated. Although South Carolina bore the brunt of the storm, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was slow to respond.
Governor Carroll Campbell once remarked that the storm destroyed enough timber in South Carolina to frame a home for everyone in West Virginia. Based on this, a massive salvage effort was begun, to preserve fallen pine trees, so they could be used as building materials. The pine trees were harvested for pulpwood before they degraded to an unusable condition.
Other severely affected regions include West Virginia, Ohio, the Eastern United States, Eastern Canada, Hispaniola, Turks and Caicos Islands, Bahamas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, especially St. Croix, where a spike in lawless behavior occurred after the storm had passed.
Even in areas that were relatively unaffected by the storm, phone lines were down, streets were flooded, and about 85,000 homes and businesses on Long Island alone were without electricity for a while. In Connecticut, wind speeds reached 50 miles an hour in Bridgeport, causing considerable property damage, while fallen trees left more than 30,000 homes without electricity.
All told, Hurricane Hugo claimed 107 human lives (most of them by electrocution or drowning), and caused about 10 billion dollars in property damage. Nearly one hundred thousand people were left homeless by the storm. At the time, Hugo had caused the most damage of any hurricane in recorded history. However, since then, many hurricanes have surpassed the extent of Hugo's destruction. These days, Hurricane Hugo is only the 6th costliest hurricane in United States history.
Throughout the ordeal, extensive relief efforts were consistently provided by the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and various local churches.