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MUSC News Center

Remembering Hurricane Hugo 25 years later

By James B. Edwards and Fred Tecklenburg | MUSC News Center | September 18, 2014

Hurricaine Hugo


On September 22, 1989 Hurricane Hugo hit Charleston, becoming one of the most catastrophic events in the history of South Carolina. 

A time of Character, courage and resolve

James B. Edwards,  DMD
President Emeritus

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.

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.

James B Edwards
Anne Thompson
President Emeritus Dr. James and Ann Edwards pose by the Hurricane Hugo stained glass window inside 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.

 st luke's glass - hurricane hugo
 Stained glass that was saved from a window at St. Luke's Chapel.

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 their chosen 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 never again witnessed in any one group of people.

Children protected at all costs

By Fred Tecklenburg, MD
Pediatric Critical Care

It’s hard to believe Hurricane Hugo was 25 years ago. I have several vivid memories that I think I’ll take to my grave.

As the storm intensified, my colleagues and I had a bird’s eye view from the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of bluish arcs emanating from exploding transformers over peninsular Charleston followed by entire sections of the city going black. The Ashley Avenue side of our relatively new Children’s Hospital felt the first blast of the storm. Patients were moved to the hallways — some beds with two or three children in them.

There were leaks everywhere on our top floor, with saturated floors and some broken windows, but the winds calmed down as the eye approached and it seemed that our patients — and the building — were reasonably safe.

Dr. Charles Darby, then–chairman of Pediatrics, and I went down to the loading dock area on Sabin Street during the eye and were awestruck by the clear view of stars overhead and the eerie sensation of barometric changes and the rapidity of a storm surge creeping up and then covering the street.

I went back to the PICU, which is on the top west floor of the building, to wait for the notorious “back end” of the storm. Within minutes we could hear a howling wind seemingly beating the side of the building with each new band. A nurse called me into a patient room in the far southwest corner of the unit because she thought the room was moving. Sure enough the corner was literally shifting with ceiling panels twisting and the windows making a sick groan. We quickly disconnected the ventilator and lines, bagged the patient and pushed the bed out of the room.  Literally, as we closed the doors, the windows burst open in the room like an explosion.

We had eight patients in the 10–bed unit — most of whom were on ventilators with all the usual support lines.

Fred Tecklenburg, MD 
Fred Tecklenburg, MD 

As we stood in the main area which housed seven of the beds, trying to decide where to move our rescued patient, the decision was made for us. Windows started breaking open and the whole unit felt like one large, wet wind tunnel. One crib with a ventilated patient was pushed across the unit before staff captured it. We called a mayday over the emergency radio system, and within a minute or two there must have been 40 or 50 nurses, physicians and maintenance staff moving all the patients into the hallway.  At some point in this process, Al, the bioengineering support man for the unit, a pediatric resident and I ended up on the leeward side of a piece of partially unsecured plywood that had been placed over a crucial window.  In truth I don’t remember how we ended up in this predicament — but we were all holding it in place as all the patients were being evacuated.

Finally, we looked at each other and said “on the count of three” as we let go. The plywood went flying, and so did Al, across the room on the wet floor. Anyway, everyone – including us plywood supporters –made it out safely.

Only one patient – the one who took a sail on his crib – suffered some morbidity: he required a blood transfusion for blood lost from a disconnected arterial line.

If this wasn’t enough excitement, once in the hallway we lost all generator power.  We literally bagged our patients by flashlight for hours until we relocated them to parts of the adult hospital that had generator power.

Many of us stayed in the hospital a couple days straight.  The most remarkable thing to me through the whole experience was the solidarity and commitment of all the MUSC community.  Everybody — the nurses, house staff, maintenance staff, faculty — pitched in and got through it.

To cap it all off personally, I got food poisoning on the third day post–Hugo and was fluid–resuscitated on the unit manager’s floor with four liters of saline. To add insult to injury, I never was able to move back into my house post–storm. I gained a keen appreciation for the little things in life and at work because of that storm.



Related Stories >>

25th Years Later - Remembering Hurricane Hugo (The Catalyst)

Birth and Rebirth - A History of St. Luke's Chapel

Resources >>

Waring Historical Library

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