Working through Hugo; local nurses recall scary night on shift

Hurricane Hugo

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Ginger Ballentine and Amy Guess watched Hugo unfold behind the doors of the old Saint Francis Hospital in downtown Charleston.

“It, it was rough,” said Guess.

Ballentine was a labor and delivery nurse during the storm. Guess was working as an emergency room nurse. They were both told to pack a bag and to expect to stay at the hospital for at least three days. 

“We did not have any idea what was going to happen to us,” said Ballentine.

But that didn’t stop them from doing their job.

“All we were worried about was taking care of the community at that time,” said Guess.

Ballentine said while one woman was giving birth, all she could remember was the ceiling tiles rippling above. 

“And then all night long the doors rattled and water was coming down the elevator shaft,” said Ballentine.

Guess and the ER staff relocated to the second floor. She said while Hugo was brewing, people were banging on the doors of the hospital, begging to be let in because they had nowhere to go. 

“A lot of people came in the building that night,” Guess said. “I mean we took nursing homes, psych patients, they were all up on the second floor with us.”

Guess remembers the windows popping out. She shared how she could feel the building sway, and when she looked out the window at one point, the entire street was nothing but water.

“This was a stressful thing that I will probably never get over because the cars were floating, boats, houses were torn up,” said Guess.

Guess said once Hugo passed, the hospital workers went into auto-pilot and worked around the clock to help people in need, not even knowing if they themselves had a home to return to. 

Ballentine said without water at times or electricity, the people working at the hospital were prepared to help in any way possible. 

“We fed so many people other than just hospital employees and patients,” Ballentine said. “It was super amazing.”

The two say it built a different kind of bond between the staff.

“Saint Francis has always been my family,” Guess said. “But in times like that, you really, you really see how much that means. And that’s why I’ve been here 40 years.”

And though the two never want to experience a storm like Hugo again, they’re empowered knowing they can handle whatever mother nature throws their way. Because, after all, they’re survivors of Hugo. 

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