‘The hospital was vibrating with the wind:’ MUSC staff recalls Hugo’s landfall

‘The hospital was vibrating with the wind:’ MUSC staff recalls Hugo’s landfall
As many people hurried out of town ahead of Hurricane Hugo's arrival, the team of doctors and nurses at the Medical University of South Carolina raced to work.

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - As many people hurried out of town ahead of Hurricane Hugo's arrival, doctors and nurses raced to work.

"My family packed up and went to Holly Hill with my parents and I came to the hospital," Dr. Fred Crawford said.

During the height of the storm, MUSC lost power. The generators failed, leaving patients and staff in the dark.
During the height of the storm, MUSC lost power. The generators failed, leaving patients and staff in the dark.

Crawford was chief of surgery at MUSC in 1989. He still remembers the evacuation warnings from the chair of Charleston County council, Linda Lombard.

"The look in her eyes told me all I needed to know," Crawford said. "She was terrified."

The hospital immediately started planning for a worst-case scenario. All elective admissions stopped. Any patients who could be safely discharged were sent home. Other patients were transported to hospitals around the state.

“That left us with sort of the hardcore group of people who couldn’t be transferred,” Crawford said. “That’s the sickest of the sick.”

Patients young and old, many in intensive care, braced for Hugo's arrival.

Dr. Fred Tecklenburg was on staff in MUSC’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit when Hugo’s wrath took hold.

The morning after Hurricane Hugo's landfall, damage was widespread and tough part of the job at MUSC was just beginning.
The morning after Hurricane Hugo's landfall, damage was widespread and tough part of the job at MUSC was just beginning.

“It really went from a very nervous, cautious look at the storm approaching and then absolute pandemonium when the windows started breaking,” Tecklenburg said. “Literally, as we walked through the doorway, the window broke open and the wind and rain at 140 to 150 miles an hour started coming into the ICU. One infant, literally was being blown by the wind in their crib.”

“We had to move all our patients from their rooms out into the hallways,” MUSC nurse manager Rhonda Flynn said. Flynn remembers the moment the eye of Hugo passed and the backside of the storm approached. "The fear we were all living under, wondering if the building could take another hit of the storm,' Flynn said. “It was very scary.”

FULL INTERVIEW: MUSC Dr. Fred Crawford on Hurricane Hugo

“There was a point about that time that I didn’t know if we were going to make it or not,” Crawford said. “The hospital was vibrating with the wind.”

During the height of the storm, the hospital lost power. The generators failed, leaving patients and staff in the dark.

"We had been assured by the city, as I recall, that we would not lose power but it turned out our generators were water-cooled," Crawford said. "The city lost water pressure so we couldn't cool the generators. So, the generator's out, power's out, and we got nothing."

Tecklenburg remembers someone having the foresight pass out hundreds of flashlights ahead of the storm. When the power went out, the medical staff had to adapt.

FULL INTERVIEW: MUSC Dr. Fred Tecklenburg on Hurricane Hugo
MUSC's team surveyed damage the morning after Hurricane Hugo struck.
MUSC's team surveyed damage the morning after Hurricane Hugo struck. (Source: Waring Historical Library, MUSC, Charleston)

“For several hours we were hand ventilating patients by flashlight,” Tecklenburg said.

"You knew that this is what you're supposed to be doing and when you looked at the faces of your patients, you just knew you were doing the right thing," Flynn said.

After the team at MUSC survived the night, the morning delivered a harsh wake-up call. The damage was widespread and tough part of the job at MUSC was just beginning.

"I was at the hospital for another two days before I could leave so I didn't know what my home looked like," Flynn said. "I couldn't reach my husband."

FULL INTERVIEW: MUSC Nurse Manager Rhonda Flynn on Hurricane Hugo

“It was close to a month or six weeks before we were back, you know, to normal if you can say normal,” Crawford said.

“I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime, I hope, situation, particularly for a hospital,” Tecklenburg said.Dr. Tecklenburg credits everyone in the building, from doctors and nurses to physical plant employees and administrators, for coming together to help the hospital recover and help the Lowcountry heal.

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