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Hurricane Hugo

Posted: May 6, 2014 8:42 a.m.
Updated: May 7, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Everyone knows the weather is an acceptable source of discussion. Politics, religion and family, however, are fraught with danger when a person talks or writes. As I was listening to the news and awaiting information about a recent impending storm, my mind wandered back to a number of years ago when Hurricane Hugo was a problem.

I was a school teacher at the time. Although the school was often almost impossible insofar as heat and humidity were concerned, that day was even more oppressive! Breathing was a chore and felt exactly as though a person were sucking air through warm water and drowning. The clothes of students and teachers seemed as if the cloth had been sprinkled for ironing. (For those of you who do not know what a South Carolina summer is without air conditioning and have never sprinkled clothes for later ironing, I can only say you are blessed!) Of course, the school did not dismiss early; the news given to the concerned was that a hurricane did not come this far inland. I, not being a weatherman but so concerned by the heat, humidity and oppressive atmosphere, cautioned my students to go straight home from school, lingering for nothing. One student, when returning to school in the storm’s aftermath said, with awe, “You knew; nobody else knew, but you did.” Of course, I didn’t, but nothing seemed normal. Oddly enough, the soccer team played in an out of town game that night!

In the early hours of the next morning, pandemonium broke loose. Winds toppled trees, split and destroyed some houses, and disrupted water and electricity sources, not for hours but for many days. Camden High School, where I taught, had extensive damage. In fact, the strength of the storm lifted one side of the roof, laying waste to many classrooms and scattering papers, and did damage to the front entrance as well as made one stairwell impassable. Hurricane Hugo had not gotten the message that it could not come as far inland as Camden.

I, of course, went by the school as soon as the storm abated to check my room -- its content and state. I was concerned about records, then kept in filing cabinets, computers being unavailable. Parents and students want proof of grades, and papers gone with the wind would not supply it. I went to the side door, right outside my room and found, to my surprise, that the steps had received no damage. I inserted my keys both to the outside door and my room having no idea what I would find. Down the hall was absolute devastation. In my room, not one piece of paper was on the floor. Even the rows of desks were as they had been left. I was amazed at the peace, silence and order when outside reigned chaos!

Although I was thankful beyond belief, I had no idea just how blessed I had been until a mother asked me if I had storm damage. I said, “No.” Her son, a student of mine, looked at her with amazed and replied, “It (the storm) would not have dared.” I know I do not have any such power of that kind, but my home, although surrounded by trees, also had only one cracked window. Tornados and hurricanes are puzzling, destroying one whole neighborhood and sparing the houses behind.

Just about two weeks after repairs were complete, another storm threatened, one I dubbed “Hugo Jr.” The real Hurricane Hugo came early in the morning. This one came just at the end of school. All teachers had to usher their students out in the hall with books to cover their heads. My students went into danger mode, sitting on the floor, quiet, heads covered with books. Another teacher brought her students out but left. Then the totally unexpected happened: no one in authority had shut off the dismissal bell, which rang even louder than normal. One of the teacher’s students, a tall young man, said, “I’m leaving” and stood. Although he was not my charge, I did not want a problem. I just retorted, “Sit down.” He looked at me with a challenging gaze and retorted, “I’m leaving. Who’s going to stop me?” Not changing expression, I spoke these words: “Fine, just be sure to close the door behind you. When some debris takes off your head or falls on you, we do not want to be a witness.” He sat down. Actually, I had no authority over him, and his teacher was not available.

I still have mementos of Hurricane Hugo. When students returned, they made badges as a fundraiser with sayings commemorating the storm that could not come as far inland as Camden but did not get the message. Many people still living in Camden remember Hurricane Hugo and its power.

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