During my 30 years living in Charleston, South Carolina (ranked the #1 travel destination in the world!), I evacuated for a hurricane that made landfall 20 miles up the coast from my house twice.
Though both occurrences were nerve-wracking, the second hurricane was much different from — and easier than — the first.
Hurricane Hugo in September 1989 — was a powerful category 4 storm, and the second — Hurricane Matthew in October 2016 — was a (still powerful) category 1 after it wreaked havoc along the southeastern coast of the U.S. before finally coming ashore here.
- Following the weather reports and anticipating a possible hurricane is unsettling. There’s always the uncertainly about whether it will hit nearby or go somewhere else — and the “should we stay or should we go” question looms large.
- Bringing potential projectiles from the yard into the garage in case hurricane-force winds occur — and packing the car for evacuation — is a chore. (I learned the hard way after Hugo to pack sentimental things like photo albums — and my homeowners insurance policy, because everything else can be replaced.)
- Finding a place to stay when you evacuate can be tricky. I found out (again, the hard way – in a previous evacuation that didn’t result in hurricane landfall) how important it is to call ahead and reserve a motel room for the longest possible period — because you can always cancel it, but if you don’t book enough nights, you’re in big trouble. During Hurricane Matthew, the newspapers reported that every hotel in the state of South Carolina was filled to capacity!
- The traffic can be incredibly bad when everyone else is heading the same direction you are! For Matthew, I left at 8:30 p.m. the night before the mandatory evacuation — like we’d done for Hugo, but a whole lot of other people obviously had the same idea! It took 5 1/2 hours to travel (in the dark, late at night, crawling at 10 m.p.h. a lot of the way) to a location 115 miles away that would normally be a 2-hour drive. (And the next day, when the reversed interstate lanes out of town opened, some friends reporting taking only 2 hours to drive the same distance. I thought it would be worse then, but it was much better. Who knew?)
- People at the location you evacuate to are also worried about the same hurricane! Both times, I went 100 miles inland to Columbia, S.C., but saw residents there all buying basic supplies and batteries for power outages because the storm was projected to affect that area as well as the coast. In fact, all the bottled water and all the bread at the Walmart near my hotel were completely sold out — and the shelves were bare!
- It can be costly to evacuate to a hotel. My five night Candlewood Suites stay cost $739. Yikes. But who can put a price on your life?
- It’s nerve-wracking — and pretty boring — to go to a new place and put your life on hold for a week or so while waiting to see what happens with the hurricane.
- For this evacuation, I was so eager to “get out of town” that I hauled all the flowerpots, flag poles and chairs, etc. inside the garage after work, dashed through the house, threw stuff in suitcases and packed the car in record time. (It helps to have evacuated a number of times before over the years — and I definitely was fueled with “hurricane anxiety” from losing everything in Hurricane Hugo!)
- Usually I evacuate to the same hotel where friends are staying. This time my friend made the reservation for me (while I was at work, because things took a turn for the worse pretty quickly — which I really appreciated) when she made the ones for her family, but she and her husband changed their mind and decided to go somewhere else at the last minute and told me “Sorry, you’re on your own!” They then changed their mind again and ended up staying in the hotel room next to me for the last two nights. It’s a real comfort to have a friend nearby in an emergency situation.
- It was scary heading to an unknown hotel in another town — in the dark and traffic — completely alone, but this time technology made it easy to stay in touch. Exchanged text messages with just about everyone I know during the whole event. And everyone had stories to tell! Turned out that one of my other friends was staying with her daughter-in-law and jumbo dog at her father’s house about 4 miles from my hotel.
- My parents live in a coastal town that was predicted to take a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew when it was a category 4, and they didn’t evacuate, so I was really worried about them — and stayed glued to the Weather Channel after their electricity — and phone — went out. They made it through like troopers, although their power was out for three days and their area had a lot of damage even though the hurricane stayed offshore.
- During the Hurricane Hugo evacuation, I had an 18-month old and my ex-husband and his parents and sister (who had – ironically – all been visiting us at the time) with us — and our guests swore they’d never come back again. The baby kept me busy, but this time I was totally unable to focus on reading or doing anything except watch the Weather Channel for days. Apparently once you’ve been through a category 4 hurricane and lost everything you’re sort of traumatized for life. I did spend some quality time at the discount stores around the hotel and at McDonald’s next door drinking endless Diet Cokes and texting friends.
- Coastal South Carolina was told to evacuate days before Hurricane Matthew hit, which resulted in a hefty hotel bill to stay for five nights. But again…who can put a price on your life?
The Good News This Time
- The drive home (at 6 a.m.) only took 1 1/2 hours!
- Although the sign at the end of the street was blown apart, my house never even lost power, and the only damage was some broken limbs and a whole lot of tree branches in the front and back yard. (After Hugo, the doors and windows were blown clear off the bottom-floor apartment, the water inside was 6 feet high, and all our belongings were destroyed or gone!)
- Facebook has an automatic status feature that lets you sign on to tell friends you’re safe — and you can see that they’re safe. That’s comforting.
- The public works and utilities people did a fabulous job restoring power to houses and businesses in the area (most of which suffered extended outages); cable TV/Internet repairs didn’t take nearly as long as expected.
- My wonderful new next-door-neighbor used a lawn blower to clear debris from my front yard and used his riding lawn mower to mow the front yard of my house and all the neighbors’ houses surrounding us! That was as welcome as the sunshine after the storm.
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