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The Catalyst

Hurricane Hugo: A time of character, courage and resolve

By James B. Edwards, DMD
President Emeritus

President Emeritus Dr. James and Ann Edwards pose by the Hurricane Hugo stained glass window inside St. Luke’s Chapel. The Eye of the Storm window is a reminder of the devastation and destruction caused by the Category 4 storm on Sept. 21, 1989. The chapel was rebuilt and rededicated in February 1994. Photo by Anne Thompson, Digital Imaging

Hurricane Hugo was one of the most catastrophic events in the history of South Carolina, most especially Charleston.  It was indeed an event to remember.  

The doctors and nurses and staff were challenged beyond imagination.  I will never forget their heroism and dedication both during and after the storm. Several weeks before Hurricane Hugo, we had a leaders meeting to develop a plan of operation in the event of a hurricane coming through Charleston.  I told them that although we had not had a major hurricane in many years, I wanted to plan as if one was coming straight across backup. I don't know why, but I said, "We will lose power. I want a generator accessible under shelter with wires running to the ICU unit." When it was confirmed that Hugo would hit South Carolina, we tried to evacuate as many patients as we could from the hospital.  The 355 patients left were cared for with unbelievable dedication, courage and tenacity on the part of all of the personnel.

One of the most heavily damaged buildings on campus was St. Luke’s Chapel. Hugo’s high winds ripped off the chapel roof and blew out windows and collapsed multiple walls. South Carolina National Guard troops helped remove the debris. President emeritus Dr. James B. Edwards led the chapel’s restoration committee coordinating repair of stained-glass windows, organ, pews and building. Photo by James H. Nicholson, Pathology & Lab Medicine

Ann and I rode out the storm with my assistant, Steve Jones.  We were in my office when the big plate glass window blew out.  The wind blew everything off my desk and Ann remarked that was the first time my desk had ever been clean.  We moved into the boardroom, pushing the table and chairs against the door.  The wind blew right through the barricade, so we moved into an inner room with no windows. The power was out so we were in the dark. Ann said, "I think we should pray."  Steve said, "What in the hell do you think I have been doing all night?" We heard a heavy thud and a crash and thought it was the big crane that was on campus for renovations.  We later discovered it was historic St. Luke's Chapel.

At 2 a.m., with no power,  the phone rang and I wondered who in the world would be calling me at that time of night. It was Governor Campbell asking how it was going and what could he do to help. I thanked him profusely and told him we would need the National Guard at daybreak and we would need more generators. During the night, most of the windows in the hospital blew out.  We were moving the patients into the halls. All of the staff, as well as the patients, had been given ID bracelets to wear. There was a command post set up and MUSC was fully prepared and oriented for the hurricane. Although we knew it was bad, no one realized how bad. Someone from the command room instructed us to “come over now” as we were going to lose the crosswalk and the power. We asked how long would we be without power and were told 17-18 minutes. Every doctor and nurse was dispatched to the ICU units to bag the patients with oxygen. As the windows were blowing out, the bassinettes were being sucked toward the windows. The nurses were heroic in grabbing them and moving them into the hall. One of the nurses had the door slam on her arm.  
This was our only casualty.

Ann and I made the rounds on all the floors.  It was extremely hot in the halls and the patients there were gravely ill.  There was an elderly African–American man with tubes from his IV coming from everywhere. Ann asked if he was in any pain. He told her he could manage. She asked if she could get him anything for pain or was there anything else that she could do for him. He said, "I have my power." He turned back the covers and there was a well–worn Bible. “I've got my help here. God bless you.”  

No one complained about the heat or the disadvantages of being in the hall. The medical staff had a calm assurance. All had smiles, all working hard… working together in a grave situation.

At daybreak we went out and walked across the Horseshoe, stepping around all of the downed power lines. As we looked up, we could see the National Guard was there. Because of all of the devastation, our relief staff could not get in and those in the hospital could not get home.

Stained glass saved from one of St. Luke's windows.

We saw St. Luke’s Chapel and it was devastating. The gable end was lying in Ashley Avenue. The beautiful stained–glass window was in a heap.  Ann and I began picking up the pieces of glass, and we were soon joined by others. It was here that I made a vow that St. Luke’s would be restored.

That promise was fulfilled through numerous contributions from the private sector including those who had attended Porter Military Academy. There were a few pieces of glass left over when the window was restored. These shards make up an image of Hugo next to the front door of the chapel.  

Everything on campus was affected. There was three feet of standing water in the Pharmacology Building on Calhoun Street. Ashley Avenue was full of cars and uprooted trees. The physical plant had 11 feet of water. The roof on the East wing of the hospital was gone. The roof of the Children's Hospital sustained severe damage. There was massive flooding everywhere. The physical plant personnel were extraordinarily brave and efficient. I have a picture of one of the workers, who sported a long beard, emerging from underneath the physical plant building; he was remarking on the enormous number of cockroaches, muddy, dripping wet, and totally unafraid.

When Ann and I got  home to Mount Pleasant, we looked back on Charleston and the only lights on were the lights at MUSC. It looked like a Christmas tree!

There are not nearly enough words to convey to people who did not go through the hurricane, the character, the courage, the extraordinary resolve, the fellowship, the dedication to theirchosen professions that the people of the MUSC exhibited. They were unselfish in what they did and they did it cheerfully and with a teamwork that I have vnever again witnessed in any one group of people.  








December 11, 2014



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