The monster storm that was Hurricane Hugo, which made landfall 20 years ago this week and caused unimaged devastation, wreaked behind-the-scenes havoc at LIVE 5 WCSC as well.
With today’s technology, there would have been even more notice and more precise projections of where Hugo was headed. But twenty years ago, despite more primitive forecast technology, LIVE 5’s legendary Charlie Hall remained at the forefront of covering Hugo’s approach and the possibility of a direct hit.
But when it became more and more clear that the storm was headed for the Lowcountry, LIVE 5’s legendary Charlie Hall became more and more determined to stay at his post to report critical information to his audience.
When engineers, and then the station’s management, pushed him to evacuate, tensions ran high.
“When he came and gave me the order, ‘We have to leave this building,’ not once, not twice but on three occasions, and the third occasion was a shouting match, [I said], ‘No, I don’t want to go, I want to stay here another two or three hours and he wouldn’t allow it,” Hall would later recall.
But in the months to come, Hall would be in for a surprise about the magnitude of his own evacuation.
Meanwhile, as the storm continued to move our way, the remaining personnel at the station evacuated and engineers attempted to pull as much equipment out of the building as possible, certain that what was left behind would almost certainly be destroyed by rising flood waters. A moving van was rented, loaded up with equipment and sent towards Orangeburg County.
From there, live broadcasts originated from the Emergency Operations Center in North Charleston, until high winds knocked that broadcast off the air.
After Hugo hit, the station’s anchors were forced to broadcast from the transmitter site in Awendaw, a small facility hardly outfitted to look like a television studio. The technical crew raced to get a camera connected so that anchors could go on to continue to cover the aftermath.
Then they realized that no one had brought along a tripod for the camera,” recalls executive producer Jim DeMauro. “So they got duct tape and taped a camera down to a camera shipping box on wheels.” That was how they were able to shoot anchors like Bill Sharpe who appeared in street clothes, unshaven, relaying information as it came in to the makeshift newsgathering center.
A satellite truck that had been used to broadcast images as Hugo first approached landfall was taken to the transmitter site so that directors could switch from camera to camera and get information on the air faster.
And of course, Charlie Hall was there, always the voice of calm, reassuring local viewers that it was going to be all right.
Hall later recalled that after the danger was over, he had pulled in to a gas station and noticed someone following him, desperately trying to flag him down.
“He grabbed my hand while I was still putting gas in the car, and he said, ‘I told my wife if I ever saw you, I was going to stop you and shake your hand.’ And I said, ‘For what?’ And he said, ‘For saving our lives.’ He pointed out that his house on Sullivan’s Island was totally demolished. And he said he and his wife had discussed it, and said they planned to stay there until they saw Charlie Hall leave. And this guy was dead serious,” Hall said.
“To me, knowing that what I did or didn’t do…and somebody reacted to that, that they left the low-lying beaches, and he came back to a totally-demolished house, and they would have likely lost their lives” was a profound moment that Hall said he’d never forget.