MYRTLE BEACH It was Sept. 22, 1989.
Hurricane Hugo made landfall in South Carolina at The Isle of Palms, and proceeded to carve out a destructive path that caused billions in damages and left 27 people dead.
The Grand Strand also suffered the brunt of natures fury as storm surge coupled with high tides ravaged beaches, destroyed the Sunset Beach and Springmaid Piers, and reduced the Surfside Beach Pier to 100 feet from 800 feet.
Horry County alone suffered an estimated $944 million in damages, according to the University of South Carolina Hazards and Vulnerability Research.
This is Sept. 22, 2012.
Its been 23 years since the storm struck the state, which has since rebuilt and grown exponentially making the coastline more vulnerable than it was when Hurricane Hugo came ashore.
Its a very vulnerable coastline from Little River down, said Scott Harris, associate professor of geology and environmental geosciences at the College of Charleston, who has researched landscape evolution and shoreline dynamics. The only reason we realize theres a problem is because people live on the coast.
About 125,238 more people live in Horry County and 13,856 more live in Georgetown County now than they did when Hugo hit, according to U.S. Census data from 1990 and 2010.
The population was much lower, Harris said of the Grand Strand in 1989. Now (if) you look at aerial photos, you cant find property thats not built on outside of reserves and parks and the religious area in the Briarcliffe Acres area.
For Horry Countys emergency management division, that could mean a logistical nightmare.
Despite the devastation, largely to the McClellanville area, which saw a Category 4 or 5 storm, Harris said the effect of the storm wasnt as bad as it could have been. Myrtle Beach may only have seen the effects of a strong Category 1 storm, and in Charleston, it could have been between a Category 2 or 3.
Pawleys Island, some of that place was devastated, Harris said. And yes, (Charleston) got struck by a large storm, but they didnt get struck by the worst of that large storm.
That minimized strength is largely because of where the storm came onshore. Had Hugo moved more northward, Georgetown and even Pawleys Island would have had a more direct, devastating hit causing even more damage.
Still, the storm surge in Georgetown went five miles inland where $50 million to $500 million in crops and $550 million to $5.5 billion in property were damaged.
Randy Webster, Horry Countys emergency management director, said the damage is hard to predict for a similar storm today.
With Hugo we had 12 feet of (storm) surge in the Garden City area, he said. What we really dont know is what that impact would be in those areas if we had those same storms today. Thats one of the big questions.
But the Hazards and Vulnerability Research Institute with the University of South Carolina estimated in 2009 that property loss in Georgetown could be as much as $64 million.
In Horry County, which wasnt directly hit, that number would be $43 million.
At the start of this hurricane season, Horry and Georgetown counties updated evacuation zones and plans. Webster said a study showed the storm surge goes further inland than initially thought, meaning places west of the Intracoastal Waterway, like Forestbrook, arent as protected as officials once believed.
Webster said the new zones coupled with the number of people living or visiting them means planning has to start even earlier.
An undeveloped coastline is designed to handle storms, Harris said.
The beach system responds and heals fairly quickly, he said. The coastline may be in a new position, but the shore fixes itself.
The sand naturally moves offshore into a sandbar during a storm and is washed back onshore in the following months. Its the buildings and the people, especially in areas that dont have a large dune system or that are low-lying, that causes the increased vulnerability, Harris said.
Tracking hurricanes has improved over the years, but that doesnt mean predicting storms is any easier.
Statistically, South Carolina is due for another event. Research by Cary Mock of the University of South Carolina Department of Geography shows 11 major hurricanes made landfall in South Carolina over the last 300 years an average of one storm every 27 years.
Realistically, its not that simple. Time gaps between major storms hitting South Carolina are all over the board, ranging from two months to 61 years, according to Mock.
It may not happen in our lifetime, Harris said. It may happen next week.
Even though a major storm hasnt hit the Grand Strand recently, Webster said hes confident the residents wont be blindsided by a storm.
I worry that theyre complacent, but I do think that people that live in our area do understand that they have that vulnerability, he said. I dont think they turn a blind eye to hurricanes. I think they know that it can happen and make the best choices with the information they get.
Webster said people seem to be prepared. We just dont want to think about it if we dont have to, he said. But most of the people in Horry County understand, and a lot of people are taking the appropriate measures to be ready.