Like a defiant jaw jutting into the Atlantic, daring storms to take a swing, the Carolinas coast has endured more than its share of hurricane beatings over the centuries.
Between 1851 and 1953, when the government began naming tropical storms, hurricanes killed 2,000 to 3,000 people in the Carolinas and neighboring states, the National Hurricane Center says.
Hurricane Hazel swept the beaches clean at the state line in 1954 and killed 95 people in the Carolinas and other states, the center says, ranking it sixth-deadliest of the named storms to hit the mainland U.S. Hugo, which crashed ashore north of Charleston in 1989, was the 13th-most damaging hurricane, adjusted for inflation in 2017 dollars, at more than $14 billion.
Here’s a look at the most devastating hurricanes, by damage or deaths, to hit the Carolinas as Hurricane Florence nears. Summaries are drawn from the hurricane center’s archives, the National Weather Service and Observer reports.
Hugo, 1989, South Carolina ($14.1 billion in damage, 2017 dollars)
It began as a tropical wave from the coast of Africa, but within a week Hugo strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane. It tore through the Caribbean, turned northwest as the center passed Puerto Rico and made a beeline toward the Carolinas.
Hugo landed at McClellanville, S.C., north of Charleston as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 22. A ship anchored in the nearby Sampit River measured sustained winds of 120 mph. As the storm bore inland, Charlotte recorded near-hurricane strength winds of 69 mph before Hugo curved to the northeast.
Charlotte residents woke to splintered trees, blocked road and power outages that took up to three weeks to repair. Hugo left 21 dead on the U.S. mainland and 29 in the Caribbean.
“I can still see it,” Ben Bailey, a rookie Union County sheriff’s deputy at the time, told the Observer in 2014. “The rain was blowing sideways, and the poles were swaying and coming down.”
Floyd, 1999, Mid-Atlantic and Northeast ($9.6 billion in damage, 56 deaths)
Also spawned off the African coast, Floyd became a Category 4 hurricane as it approached the Bahamas. The storm curved toward the northeast as it approached the mainland and landed near Cape Fear on Sept. 16, then continued up the Atlantic coast to New England.
While it carried 120 mph wind gusts and up to 10-foot storm surges on North Carolina’s coast, the hurricane center says Floyd was most notable for its heavy rainfall and flooding. It drenched Wilmington with 19 inches of rain and dumped more than 10 inches up the East coast.
All that rain fell on saturated ground and swollen rivers left by Tropical Storm Dennis two weeks earlier. Flooding caused most of the property damage and deaths from the storm.
Fran, 1996, North Carolina ($7.9 billion in damage, 26 deaths)
Fran grew to a Category 3 hurricane before making landfall Sept. 5 southwest of Wilmington, the National Weather Service says. It followed Hurricane Bertha, two months earlier, as the second storm to hit the N.C. coast in the same year.
Fran plowed far inland, crossing North Carolina and continuing north into Virginia before losing energy over the Great Lakes. North Carolina sustained most of its damage, but a swath from South Carolina to Ohio was affected.
A 137 mph wind gust was recorded in Wilmington. The police station in North Topsail Beach was washed away, fishing piers and hundreds of beach houses were damaged and 40 feet of beach was lost on Topsail Island. Hurricane-force wind gusts were reported in Raleigh and 1 million people were left without power.
Fourteen people died in North Carolina alone, most from accidents involving fallen trees.
Connie and Diane, 1955, North Carolina and Northeast ($7.6 billion in damage, 184 deaths from Diane; 25 deaths from Connie)
These storms struck the N.C. coast five days apart in August, and one made damage from the other worse.
Connie hit the state’s northern coast, then dissipated over the Great Lakes with relatively minor damage. But the up to 12 inches of rain that Connie dumped from North Carolina to the northeastern states were enough to cause major flooding when Diane appeared days later.
Wind and tidal damage from Hurricane Diane affected only a small part of North Carolina’s southern coast, then crossed into Virginia and headed back out to sea near Long Island. But the storm drenched areas already soaked by Connie with 10 to 20 inches of rain, prompting widespread flooding from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
Isabel, 2003, Mid-Atlantic ($7.4 billion in damage)
This storm reached Category 5, making it the strongest Atlantic hurricane in 15 years. Isabel came ashore on Sept. 18 on North Carolina’s southern Outer Banks, but became the worst hurricane to damage the Chesapeake Bay in 70 years.
Eight-foot storm surges flooded rivers that feed the bay from Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., and tropical storm-force wind gusts were felt in New York state as the storm moved inland. More than 4 million customers lost power and 17 people died.
Donna, 1960, Florida and eastern U.S. ($3.2 billion in damage, 50 deaths)
After steaming across the Atlantic as a Category 4 hurricane, Donna hit the Florida Keys and cut a path to the northeast across Florida, the N.C. coast and then into New England.
Donna is the only recorded storm to whip up hurricane-strength winds in Florida, the mid-Atlantic and New England. Elizabeth City clocked 83 mph winds and Manteo a 120 mph gust. Storm surges hit 13 feet in the Keys and up to eight feet in North Carolina.
At landfall, Donna’s barometric pressure was 27.46 inches, making it the fifth-strongest hurricane on record to strike the U.S.
Hazel, 1954, North Carolina and South Carolina (95 deaths)
Taking a northwestern turn from the Bahamas, Hazel turned north and picked up speed. The Category 4 hurricane landed Oct. 15 near the Carolinas border.
Hazel’s winds were estimated at 130 mph to 150 mph on the coast between Myrtle Beach, S.C., and North Carolina’s Cape Fear. A storm surge of up to 18 feet flooded parts of the N.C. coast, and heavy rain of up to 11 inches was reported as far north as Toronto.
Apart from the U.S. deaths, Hazel killed 100 people in Canada and up to 1,000 in Haiti.