I was a hurricane neophyte. That’s why last Tuesday I was shopping at Home Goods on Hilton Head Island, oblivious to the reports that Hurricane Matthew was heading our way. When I called a friend from the parking lot to see if she wanted to take a walk on the beach later, the tone of her voice told me I needed to take this category-four hurricane seriously. Trying to remember what I’d read about hurricane preparations, I headed to Whole Foods for food. After all, I am a foodie.
Try to think of allergy-friendly foods you can eat that don’t need an oven, a stovetop, or a microwave. Now think of some that don’t require refrigeration. Not easy, huh? I came home with a bunch of perishables and canned goods. I forgot the water. I would have been really hungry and thirsty after a few days.
By the time I unpacked my canned tuna and apples, the South Carolina governor was ordering mandatory evacuation My husband was away on business so it was up to me to secure our outside furniture, pack our clothes and our dog Zoe’s food and toys, load up the car with our computers and important papers, and turn off the gas and water. Wanting to avoid traffic, Zoe and I left at 5 a.m. on Wednesday (evacuation was 3 p.m.). My heart raced a little when I saw how many cars were waiting in long lines at gas stations. This was the real thing.
During the five and a half hour drive to Atlanta I thought of all the things I should have packed and questioned whether I’d locked all the doors. Should I have unplugged all the appliances? I kept thinking about the rotisserie chicken I’d forgotten in the refrigerator that would spoil and smell should the power go off. But I told myself not to worry: I was certain I’d only be gone a few days. Hurricane Matthew would stay off the coast and pass by our beloved island as so many other hurricanes had over the years.
I was a hurricane neophyte.
My husband met me at a hotel in Atlanta (we couldn’t get reservations any closer). Ever the optimist, he reserved three nights.
Thinking this was an opportunity to review some Atlanta restaurants, I messaged a fellow foodie from Atlanta for some recommendations (reviews to come). Truthfully, after watching the Weather Channel 24/7 and seeing the devastation Hurricane Matthew was causing to Florida coasts, we weren’t all that hungry. I bought some peanut butter and bananas for my hotel breakfast and Zoe and I nibbled on turkey and ham throughout the day.
Our vacation home is in Sea Pines, the oldest of the Hilton Head communities founded in 1957. Our children learned to ride bikes on the packed sand of the five-mile beach and to swim in the pools of the houses we rented. After many years of summer vacations there, we took the plunge and bought a house. Over a year ago, with our children now adults and retirement approaching, we sold the first and bought another closer to the beach. We’d just finished remodeling and decorating and were looking forward to Colorado friends arriving on October 12 for our member-guest golf tournament. They anxiously watched the Weather Channel, too. “Hilton Head has been lucky so far,” I told them.
Our security system notified us we lost power at 4:05 a.m. on Saturday, October 8. We learned later that morning that Hurricane Matthew, downgraded to hurricane-2, hovered over Hilton Head from about 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. While the Weather Channel reported on Savannah and Charleston, no reporters shared news about our inaccessible island. By Saturday afternoon, folks who’d stayed hunkered down during the storm shared photos on social media of massive pines, palmettos, and live oaks crossing roadways like a child’s game of pickup sticks. Soon we’d learn Sea Pines had been hit the hardest. The worst had really happened.
Of course we were concerned about our house, but ours was newer and built to withstand a hurricane’s wrath. Ours was a second home and didn’t contain our cherished belongings or irreplaceable keepsakes (except for the preserved and mounted shark my husband and children had caught). What we did worry about was our older neighbor who had stayed in a ground-level house without a cell phone. We worried about our beloved landmarks, including the “Liberty Oak” in Harbour Town where our children heard Greg Russell sing and where the founder of Sea Pines Charles E. Fraser is buried. The golf courses and the piers could be rebuilt, but not that tree. We worried about our friends who had to stay evacuated while we returned to our primary residence.
On Saturday evening we took a direct flight back to Colorado Springs. Not knowing if it would be two days or two weeks for cleanup, we didn’t want to stay in a hotel room watching the Weather Channel any longer.
I’m posting this on Tuesday, October 11. It’s amazing what the first responders, the cleanup crews, law enforcement, the community organizations, utilities, and others have accomplished in three days. Evacuees have returned to the island. While not encouraged to go back to Sea Pines because of the safety risks, residents are now allowed back on. According to our security system texts, our power has gone on and then off again several times. We still don’t know if we have water, nor do we know anything about our home’s condition. What we do know is our neighbor is safe, and the Liberty Oak is standing strong among massive amounts of debris. We’ve seen heart-wrenching photos of enormous trees on roofs, of golf courses and parking lots under water, and we’ve seen the worried faces of distraught people, including a boat captain whose boat was destroyed. How will he make a living now?
We’ve been told had Hurricane Matthew stayed a category-4 our beloved island would be gone. So while we incurred massive destruction, we are fortunate to have an island to return to. My husband and I along with Zoe will return as soon as it’s safe (I’m particularly worried about the alligators and the snakes who were displaced!). While we are sometimes referred to as “part-timers” by the locals and the full-timers who have retired on Sea Pines, I have a feeling we’ll come together to restore the island we all love.
And I’ll tell you this: I’ll always pay attention during hurricane season. I am no longer a hurricane neophyte.
You may also enjoy a previous post about Hilton Head.