Restoring the Light After Hugo

Restoring the Light After Hugo

Restoring the Light After Hugo

Hurricane Hugo devastated South Carolina 30 years ago this weekend. The category 4 storm hit Charleston overnight from September 21 - 22, 1989.

If you were here, you remember.

“The day before, it was a beautiful day that morning. I think in the afternoon it started becoming overcast. But I remember we were getting the predictions and forecasts that it was coming in but the day before, it was almost a blue-sky day,” said Mike Poston, Vice President of Retail Operations. “I spent the night at my in-laws and I remember the house shaking like I’ve never experienced before. I was just wondering if we were going to make it through to the next morning.”

Some didn’t. The storm was blamed for 35 deaths in South Carolina. Homes were blown off foundations, some leveled, entire neighborhoods flattened.

“I remember coming into work and it was just dark. I hadn’t experienced that before either,” said Poston. “Coming into Conway, it was pitch black dark. Getting in that morning and finding out we didn’t have any generation throughout the whole state, that was just shocking. I never expected that.”

The storm severely damaged our headquarters in Moncks Corner. For the first time in our history, we were unable to transmit power. Two-thirds of the state was in the dark. Most of our grid had to be rebuilt.

Santee Cooper turned to gas turbines in Myrtle Beach, which could be started up on their own, without any power running to them. They generated power to get the generating stations back online and gradually, the system started to return.  

In the following days, line crews cleared roads and were able to restore power to water and sewer operations and vital areas like hospitals and city and county emergency operations.

Within 12 hours after the storm, the power started flickering back on. By September 25, most of Moncks Corner was restored. Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach were back on by September 29. In all, most of our customers had power within two weeks.

Customers were thankful.

“They couldn’t have been any more gracious to our crews. They cheered whenever they got their lights back on,” said Diane Bell, former Manager of Distribution Planning and Technical Support. “They were just thankful to get their power back.”

The quick response was thanks to the Santee Cooper employees at the time who worked around the clock, line workers from other states who aided our crews, and the community’s support.

“The teamwork is what I’m proud of every time we’re faced with something like that,” said Poston. “We all worked two weeks straight through to restore power to everyone who could receive it. You were proud of the effort that everybody put forth and the same thing with all of the storms we’ve experienced since then. You always have that feeling of pride when you get everybody back on.”

Author Tracy Vreeland

Tracy Vreeland

Tracy Vreeland joined Santee Cooper in May 2018, coming from a Myrtle Beach advertising agency. Prior to that she worked at United Way of Horry County. A University South Carolina graduate, she majored in electronic journalism and has worked in television news gathering at several stations. A New Jersey native, Tracy enjoys hanging with her son, Oliver, and daugther, Vienna, running, volunteering, going to the beach and watching the New York Giants and USC Gamecocks.