Pre-Storm Preparations

As Hurricane Hugo churned in the Atlantic Ocean in early and mid September 1989, residents throughout the Caribbean and the southeastern United States, not knowing its eventual landfall sites, prepared for the storm’s arrival. In Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and Guadeloupe, houses were destroyed, crops wiped out, and scores of people killed. Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr., instructed local agencies to implement emergency plans.

MUSC hospital and university administrators activated their own emergency plans, and everyone on campus set to work. Maintenance staff stockpiled plywood to protect doors and windows and removed debris from campus grounds to reduce the possibility of airborne projectiles. In anticipation of power failure, they prepared backup lighting and emergency generators. Office staff moved computers and equipment away from windows; maintenance staff supplied extension cords from emergency power outlets to operating rooms; and hospital staff sterilized and packaged surgical instruments and gathered pharmacy supplies. Oxygen cylinders, monitors, lanterns, gurneys, suction devices, batteries, and sterile procedure trays were relocated to the second floor of the outpatient clinic building.

Physicians discharged all patients who could be sent home safely and limited hospital admissions to emergencies only. The remaining patients were sent to the second floor in anticipation of potential elevator failure.

The medical staff was reduced to only those absolutely required to meet the needs of the patients. MUSC administration established two shifts of workers in all departments: those who remained on campus and those who went home or evacuated. The second shift was expected to return after the storm to relieve those who remained on campus. As it turned out, the storm damage was so severe that the city was closed to returning citizens for much longer than anticipated.

Ultimately, even the best preparations were no match for the destruction Hugo inflicted.