Originally created 09/16/99

Storm plunges city into darkness



CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Darkness fell early in Charleston on Wednesday afternoon,leaving nothing to do but wait for the worst from Hurricane Floyd.

Heavy winds, gusting more than 70 mph, littered empty streets with debris and pieces of trees before 5 p.m.

Streetlights already were out, and streets around the old Charleston Market were full of water. Tattered awnings waved above boarded storefronts downtown.

Wind stripped the fancy bark from palmetto trees by the historic Battery -- where the first shots of the Civil War were fired -- leaving the trunks smooth. Strips of shredded bark danced in the air, blown by heavy gusts.

Boats in Charleston's City Marina bobbed in high waves, their masts bending in the wind. Some were padded with automobile tires to protect them from banging each other. It was too early to tell whether that would help in hurricane-force winds that were predicted to top 125 mph during the night.

Randolph Martz trained binoculars on his 1958 boat anchored in the Ashley River and said, "I hope she's still there tomorrow.

"I put some extra anchors out and tied tires around her, so hopefully she won't go anywhere and nobody will bang into her."

After Hurricane Hugo in 1989, boats flung from the marina were stacked in splinters where they landed.

At Adgers Wharf, waves pounded the top of the pier. The cobblestone street to the wharf was underwater after a full day of rain.

At first, the rain was just steady. It was falling in sheets by the end of the day.

"It's beginning to get interesting," said Col. Mark Hood of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps already has arrived to assist in cleaning up the mess that Floyd will leave behind.

At midafternoon, only the brave ventured out in deserted streets -- a youth on a skateboard, pushed along by wind; some joggers; teen-agers tossing a sponge football in the rain; and dog owners giving their pets a last wet run near the harbor before Floyd's full fury.

All bridges were closed. A local TV news crew ventured onto one anyway and said it swayed beneath their van.

At Planter's Inn, owner Hank Holliday served chamomile tea to journalists writing by flashlight.

The elegant inn had earlier contained more than a dozen newsmen, serving a Tuesday night dinner of steak and lobster that would have spoiled after power went out. Most national news media left Wednesday morning, expecting Floyd to hit harder farther north.

It had taken six years to renovate the inn after buying it, Mr. Holliday said.

"Now I just hope we get through this with no water in the lobby," he said. "If I didn't have my heart and soul invested in this place and the people who work here, I wouldn't be here at all."

Antiques, glassware and paintings were stacked in an inner room. Sofas held the doors shut as wind whistled harder and higher outside.

Most people had fled inland. Those who were left could only listen to the wind and wait.

REACH

Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.