The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 13, Number 7
Nov 1989

Hurricane Hugo Puts Disaster Plans to Test

Not much news has been received about the effect on cultural institutions of Hurricane Hugo, which moved across the Caribbean and struck South Carolina on Thursday September 21. No direct word has been received at the Newsletter office from libraries, archives or museums in the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, which were hard hit; but the fate of Charleston's public libraries and schools was described in the November American Libraries, and some of the Abbey Newsletter' s five Charleston subscribers were contacted by phone in early October to see if they were still there and receiving mail.

Mail service resumed the Saturday after the storm, although some of the libraries to which the mail was addressed were out of service for a while. The Poe branch of the Charleston County Library system (CCL) lost all 10,000 of its books, being situated on Sullivan Island, a harrier island. Another branch lost all 5000 of its books in a seven-foot water surge. The West Ashley branch, largest in the system, lost 10,000 of its 50,000 books (or, by another report, ail its books except the South Carolina collection, which librarians took care to protect), due largely to a sewer main rupture in the building. Other branches were less seriously affected.

Paul Storch, Chair of the AIC Objects Group, sent a preliminary report to the AIC Newsletter on the experience of museums in the area. He said the conservators at Colonial Williamsburg had offered their help right after Hugo struck. A video is being prepared on the disaster and cleanup operations. An excerpt from his preliminary report follows:

... Most people and museums were able to prepare. Several museums sustained minor to moderate damage. The hardest hit building was the Confederate Museum in the historic market district of the City of Charleston. The rear right corner of the roof was ripped off and the rear window smashed out. At the time of this writing (9/27/89) the full extent of damage to those collections is not known. The Charleston Museum received water damage after 12 large panes of glass were blown out. Thirty-seven objects, mostly weapons, were removed to the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia for stabilization treatments. A disaster response team from the State Museum consisting of conservation staff, security officers, building services staff, and curatorial personnel spent four days in Charleston proper and the outlying areas helping with damage assessment, cleanup operations and object stabilization.

Pat Morris, of the South Carolina Archives in Columbia, says that there was a lot of mold, because it rained for several days after the storm, and the weather was warn, but the power was down so nothing could be frozen. However, there is a well-established disaster plan for members of CALM (Charleston Archives, Libraries and Museums), and with the three-day warning, they were able to prepare everything and evacuate 24 hours ahead of the storm. Organizations not part of CALM did sustain severe damage. The biggest problem overall was with insurance companies: too few places, especially public libraries, checked out their coverage and terms beforehand.

On January 16, at the McKissick Museum in Columbia, there will be a meeting to discuss the things that went right (or wrong) during the response to Hugo. Others who would like to attend, or learn more about this discussion, can call Pat Morris at 803-734-8602, or Sharon Bennett (head of CALM) at the Charleston Museum, 803-722-2996.

The University of the Virgin Islands was without full power for about 25 days. An estimated $14 million worth of repairs will have to be made. FEMA money may not be available for some time, because the islands' governor has put the University near the bottom of his priority list. Insurance money may cover part of it; like many other schools affected by both the earthquake and the hurricane, they will have to raise funds in a crash program. Classrooms and dorms lack roofs, windows and doors; water seeped into everything; and equipment and furnishings were all damaged. The president has announced that he will retire in September 1990. There is no news yet about the library, but in view of all this, it can hardly be good when it comes.

 [Contents]  [Search]  [Abbey]

[Search all CoOL documents]