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These 15 Horrific Tragedies Of South Carolina Will Never Be Forgotten

There are moments when time stops and the world stands still. Silence descends so fast that you are left with nothing but the hum in your ears. We have all been there at least once; we have seen things that we wish we hadn’t. Horrific visions that have been engraved in our memories by the shock of the moment.  Being one of the oldest states in the United States, South Carolina is bound to have terrible tales of tragedies – both natural and otherwise – that will never be forgotten as long as there is a record of them to be found and as long as there are people who remember.

What I have for you are some of the most tragic moments in South Carolina history. 9658243_7ceaf1874a_o

1. Sea Island Hurricane of 1893: On August 27, 1893, this category 3/4 storm smashed into the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Although few records exist of this storm, it is known that the surge came in between 16 and 30 feet with massive damage including land erosion and flooding. Between 1,000-2,000 people lost their lives in this hurricane. It is known in history as being the 4th deadliest storm.

2. Hurricane Hugo: Many, many people still remember September 22, 1989 when Hugo made landfall in South Carolina. Off land, this storm rated the highest on the scale at a category 5 and at landfall it was a very strong category 4. It was definitely the worst hurricane to hit South Carolina in our lifetimes. I remember being at home in Olar, SC with my mom and wondering what was going to happen as the storm passed over and knowing that no matter what would happen that I would be okay because my mom was there. Unfortunately, not everyone was so lucky. South Carolina lost 27 lives in this storm and more than 100,000 people were homeless. The devastation took months to repair.

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3. Christmas 1994 Nor’easter: It was an intense cyclone that rode up the southeastern seacoast. Although, South Carolina didn’t get snow from this storm, we did get intense flooding, high winds, and terrible beach erosion.

4. Nor’easter of November 2006: This storm fell upon the South Carolina with heavy rainfall that was measured up to 4.1 inches in Chester, SC. Snow came and mixed with the rain and has been noted as the earliest in history that South Carolina has seen snow. We also hit another record as at the very time the snow started to fall in Charleston, SC, thunder was also heard giving us the first time we ever recorded ‘thundersnow’ in history. With the gusting winds of up to 44 mph and heavy surf a lot of beach erosion was seen as well.

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5. Tornadoes during April 14, 2007:  A nor’easter hits the eastern side of the United States and South Carolina gets pummeled with tornadoes. Many counties reported damage from the twisting funnel clouds. One person lost their life while many were injured and more were without homes. Five counties were hit that day and in a split second of time lasting memories were made.

6. The Tornado Outbreak of April 14-16, 2011: A super storm system swims over the southeastern United States pelting South Carolina with tornadoes that seemed to bloom out of blue skies to tear swaths of land asunder. Thankfully, there were no injuries this time although there were 162 tornadoes that were reported from this storm.

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7. The Disastrous Bridge Collapse of 1946: It was named the John P. Grace Memorial Bridge, but locals now call it the “old” bridge that spanned across the Cooper River. It was built in 1929 and was the largest bridge of its kind in the world. It opened up travel between Charleston and the rest of South Carolina by car instead of boats or ferry. In 1946, 10,000 ton freighter known as “Nicaragua Victory” hit the bridge and tore out a 240 foot section dropping a family to their demise.

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8. Earthquake of 1886: On August 31st, Charleston, SC, endured one of the most damaging and severe earthquakes to hit the southeastern United States. The earthquake is known to have been between a 6.6 – 7.4 on the Richter scale. Charleston was not known for any activity before this quake and therefore, it was poorly prepared for such an event. Millions of dollars of damage was recorded and between 60-110 people lost their lives.

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9. Great Clemson Train Wreck of 1965: Just a squeak past midnight on April 7, 1965, the No. 52 northbound train had derailed into a molten mound of mashed and toppled steel. That night a between 34-37 cars seemed to fly away from each other as if polarized magnets.

10. The Graniteville Train Crash: On January 6, 2005 around 2:40 a.m. two Norfolk Southern trains collided, but this was a collision like no other. One of the trains was carrying a load of chemicals including chlorine gas. Nine people lost their lives, 250 people were treated for exposure, and an area of more than a mile of the crash site were evacuated for more than two weeks while the spill was cleaned up.

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11. The Great Fire of 1838: Charleston, SC, on April 27-28, experienced a devastating loss. It started around 10 p.m. on the 27th and quickly spread through the downtown area as at that time most of the buildings were made of wood. Over 1100 buildings were destroyed including properties, churches, stores, sheds, and stables as well as much more.

12. The Burning of Columbia 1865: On February 17, 1865, Sherman’s troops busted through the lines and invaded Columbia. Columbia surrendered. Whether by accident or vengeance – no one will ever know which and at this point it doesn’t matter – fires were started which were quickly spread through the city by winds. It was difficult for the fire companies to tend to the fires with the people in the streets and the invading armies – it was known they were trying to stop it as well – and so, Columbia became a shell of its former self.

13. Cleveland School Fire of 1923: It was May 17th and a play was being held at the Cleveland School and more than 300 people had attended.  An oil lamp fell from the ceiling onto the stage of the second floor hall where the play was being held. The burning oil ignited straw and oilcloth that was being used as decorative items and quickly spread. The people who got out tried to get the rest of the people out as well, but the building burned too fast. Tragically, 77 people lost their lives.

14. Lancaster County Jail: During the evening hours of December 17, 1979, a fire broke out in materials that had been stored in an empty cell block. Although the fire had been contained in that one cell, there was heavy smoke and heat. Due to the nature of the building and poor exit points, moving inmates was a slow process which resulted in the loss of  11 lives.

15. Charleston Sofa Super Store Fire: It was the evening of June 18, 2007, when the call came in that the store was on fire. Crews fought valiantly to get it under control, but it was not to be. Due to the nature of the contents, the fire spread rapidly and then a flashover occurred which made everything worse. It claimed the lives of 9 firefighters, the highest number of firefighter loss since 9/11 until the loss of 19 firefighters in Arizona.

Your brain is magical organ. It can make you forget memories or smooth over the sharp edges so that they don’t hurt near as bad as they did at the time. Sometimes, this is an excellent skill to have and then sometimes it is not. Some things do not need to be forgotten such as these. The lives that were lost in each of these tragedies are no less today than they were then. I hope that you see these in the light that they were given. It is not meant to bring back sadness, but to remember the greatness of strength that people uphold in such times.

Gwen Tennille
Gwen is an author, artist, illustrator, graphic designer, mother, wife, and part-time super hero. She loves to tackle her dreams head on and takes life by storm. Coffee is her best friend and a good book cannot be beat! When does she have the time, you ask? Well...do you really need that much sleep?