It was the severest storm Augusta has ever experienced ...
- The Augusta Chronicle, June 3, 1910
Augusta has its disaster benchmarks.
There are the floods of 1908 and 1929, the fire of 1916, the earthquake of 1886.
There's even the 1878 tornado that took down the Old Market, but left us with a "haunted" pillar.
All left their mark, but 91 years ago this morning - June 3, 1910, residents of our town emerged from their homes shaken and perhaps amazed at what had happened the night before.
Their city had been struck by a fierce storm described as a "furious hurricane."
According to that day's edition of The Chronicle, which filled its front page with eight stories on the storm, 80-mph winds hit town at 10:13 the night before, downing trees on Greene Street and knocking out electrical power and telephone lines.
You can tell the staff of The Chronicle was excited. Woven throughout the accounts are tales of valiant reporters.
"Newspaper men who braved the dangers of the night ... found wreck and ruin everywhere."
And, "few were willing to risk the dangers ... and the reporters had to find their way the best they could, and the story of the storm is given after the most strenuous work that newspaper men ever handled in Augusta."
Without electricity and telephones, The Chronicle said, the reporting staff had to resort to candlelight to write the stories.
There were a lot of stories.
At downtown's Bijou theater, a fast-thinking manager was credited with preventing a panic by distracting the audience with a "jolly song" sung by a local quartet. Only when the theater patrons emerged from the showplace did they discover the town was a mess.
Oscar Blassingame saw the storm firsthand. The storm tore off his roof, giving him an open-air view of nature's fury.
He was not hurt, but E.M. Riddle was. The Chronicle reported that 80 mph winds wrecked the Riddle house, injuring Mr. Riddle's wife and daughter.
Across the river, North Augusta suffered little damage, although high winds were reported. In Columbia County a barn was damaged.
The Chronicle's report is fairly complete. It even includes a short story recapping the famous tornado that tore down the old Market and left the Haunted Pillar 22 years before.
But was it really a hurricane?
I called Chris Maddox, a meteorologist at WAGT-TV, and he acknowledged that it could have been, but probably wasn't.
He also called some national weather statisticians, who told him that there were no reported hurricanes in these parts in June 1910.
But, I figure those intrepid newspaper reporters of almost a century ago could be forgiven their excitement.
To them it felt like a hurricane. It hit like a hurricane. And it must have looked like a hurricane.
Perhaps when you're writing by candlelight, you earn a little literary license.
Reach Bill Kirby at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 107, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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