Let the Hurricane Begin: Uninterrupted Telephone Service maintained during 1989’s Hurricane Hugo

On Thursday, September 21st AT&T South Carolina prepared to ride out
the worst storm in the state’s 300-year history: Hurricane Hugo. Our story focuses on
business communications systems. Just one the dedicated groups who would
work through the storm and its aftermath. “We started that
Thursday morning. We were all pretty apprehensive. We were all getting a little
bit scared as Hugo was coming closer.” “We called all of our accounts, we suggested
that they cover their telephone systems with some type of
protective covering in the event that the roof might blow off.” “No longer can you get on I-26 to get to Columbia because it’s backed up all the way from Columbia.” “She said she was kinda panicky, didn’t know exactly what they should do, but they expect about
four feet of water in their equipment room. So I suggested that
one thing they could do, since they have a Modular System 75 ” – “Unplug it from the outlet, cut the ground
wires and move it upstairs. Put it on the
freight elevator and move it upstairs.” “Knowing that the storm was approaching us we began to get supplies in, we had some stuff coming in from Columbia, we had
stockpiles of telephone instruments.” “They tried to elevate the switch but could not do that so they wrapped it in plastic from underneath.” “The police department is 24 hours a day. They cannot miss a lick. Communications to them is life.” “The day before the storm
Jim was over here, Jim Bishop, and we talked about what to do in the
equipment room. I said when do we lose our telephones? He said well, when the water gets to this level it’s gonna hit this piece of equipment and it’s gonna take it out no matter what you do, it’s gonna take ’em out then.” “We taped, we sandbagged, we lifted up as much equipment as we could possibly lift up.” “But all the preparation in the world couldn’t have got us ready for this, we just never expected it. It was
worse than our worst nightmare.” “It was a horrible thing. You wish you were somewhere else.” “It was around 10 minutes after 12, we had a window blow out. We were in the long distance toll building the wind was whipping through the building at 120 miles an hour blowing papers and trash cans
around. We were servicing our customers but in the back of your mind you really wondered whether everything you owned had been lost.” All the communications we had were by telephone. That’s what we had. Everything else went out, our radios went out, everything went out. The telephone stayed on. We had people calling us during the storm and they’re saying ‘You gotta come get me.’ And we told them there’s nothing we can do now, it’s too late, no one can leave. 135 mile-an-hour winds, you can’t even stand up in it. Debris flying everywhere, glass shards everywhere. So they just had to hold on. And sometimes that’s all they needed to hear was us telling them to ‘Stay where you’re at and everything’s gonna be alright.” “In a matter of six hours one hurricane did
more damage to the Charleston area than all the
previous disasters in its 300-plus year history. The
losses in Charleston, in the Charleston area at this point
in time have been estimated to be between four and five billion dollars. Probably more importantly, the
psychological damage to the residents of Charleston. Tremendous personal loss. Virtually no family was unscathed by some form of damage and it’ll be years
in rebuilding.” “Here at Medical University we estimate
that we had somewhere in excess of seventy
million dollars worth of damage and our institution telephone wires and
system 85 was fully operational during the entire storm. We never lost service,
we never lost the ability to communicate. People have
come to us since then and said, ‘If I had not been able to communicate
with somebody else, another living person, another living
body, I don’t know what I would have done during that hurricane.” “To go through a storm of this magnitude and still have telephones is unheard of. It was the
only utility that survived.” I have three System-75s. I have the one at the county police department which got a little damp and it never
stopped.” “It’s more than just the switch, it’s the service behind the switch. I think today we know we’re in an age where technology is really advanced. But the technology is only as good as the
service.” “if you want a switch that’s gonna stay up and operate, and you want the people that’s gonna be there inside that room when that storm is eating you up outside, you need to look at AT&T very seriously and their System-85. We put a full-page advertisement in yesterday’s paper here in Charleston and we listed
about 25 groups that were pointed out during
this storm as being here when the chips were really down and you needed them. And in our top 10 was our AT&T telephone technicians. They were here, they were working, they
left their homes and their families, and they were devoted enough to this institution and AT&T to be here when we needed them to make everything work.”

2 Replies to “Let the Hurricane Begin: Uninterrupted Telephone Service maintained during 1989’s Hurricane Hugo

  1. Hugo also struck the island of Montserrat devastating a recording studio owned by the late Sir George Martin in which much of the music of the late 70's & 80's came from. Air Studios Montserrat.

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