COLUMBIA -- South Carolina's Hispanic community is growing, especially in rural areas, according to Census Bureau information that takes a detailed look at county-level population by race.
Statewide, the Hispanic population grew 62 percent between 1990 and 1998, Census figures show. The 1998 figures are estimates.
Lexington County's Hispanic population nearly doubled to 2,563. Hispanic population growth was above 75 percent in York, Lee, Horry, Kershaw, Oconee, Anderson, Pickens and Aiken counties.
The trend has stirred entrepreneurial spirits. For example, the owners of Greenville's WGVL AM 1440 turned the radio station into the Upstate's first 24-hour Spanish station earlier this summer.
Greenville-area hospitals are giving employees Spanish lessons and sensitivity training.
Law enforcement and public safety agencies have noticed the changes in Lexington County.
"The No. 1 place it is affecting us right now is in our detention facility," said Capt. Gary Morgan of the Lexington County Sheriff's Department. "We do have people on our staff who are fluent" in Spanish, Capt. Morgan said.
He said the department is looking at hiring translators for court.
"We seem to run into more and more situations where language is a barrier," said Brian Hood, spokesman for the Lexington County Department of Public Safety.
Mr. Hood said none of the situations has created delays in helping people.
In most cases, somebody in the family or a neighbor bridges the language gap, Mr. Hood said. Sometimes, hand signals are enough to tell emergency medical officers what's wrong.
The Hispanic population boom is not just a South Carolina trend, but a national one.
The Hispanic population nationwide is up to 30.3 million from 22.4 million in 1990, a gain of more than 35 percent. California, with 10.1 million Hispanics, has more than any other state.
The Census figures show that people with Asian and Pacific Island heritage are the second-fastest growing segment, with a 51 percent increase since 1990.
In South Carolina, the Asian population growth is strongest in Beaufort County where it has risen 71 percent from 734 in 1990 to 1,260 in 1998.
Beaufort County has seen some of the state's fastest growth among white and black populations as well.
The county's booming retirement and resort communities helped the white and black population leap by 23 percent between 1990 and 1998.