Jennings Austin, the former principal of Lincoln High School in McClellanville describes the night of September 21, 1989, as like being on an airliner that you knew was getting ready to crash.
Austin described the night as beginning with gusty winds and heavy rain, in fact he and the 500 residents seeking shelter in the school thought they were going to be just fine, and then the storm surge hit. Austin recalls that water began to rise rapidly just after midnight as McClellanville was directly in the path of the northern eye wall of Hurricane Hugo. “In a matter of about, I would say, three minutes we were knee deep in water and then a minute later we were waist deep in water, an then everybody just completely panicked, ” said Austin. This was the scene as a wall of water 20 feet high washed across the tiny fishing village as Hugo came ashore.
“My first reaction was to try to get everybody to go to the gymnasium. I knew if we got everybody there, the could get on the bleachers,” recalled Austin. As Austin, EMS workers, and deputies tried to open the doors to the school to begin evacuating residents to the gym, they realized the water was already over the doors. They were trapped in the school.
Austin witnessed residents climbing on top of table, chairs, and even climbing into the ceiling to escape the rising water. They finally found a window they could break in a classroom to get an idea of how deep the water was outside of the high school. Austin and the workers were able to climb onto the roof of the school and stayed there all night holding onto pipes.
As the sun rose, Austin recalls looking at the water lines on the buildings thinking that there was no way anyone below them survived. Luckily he was wrong. All of the people in the shelter did make it through the night.