Nicki Haley, governor of South Carolina,
declared a mandatory evacuation of Beaufort County effective Wednesday Oct. 5.
Having left death and destruction in its path
through Haiti, Cuba, Florida and Georgia,
Hurricane Matthew was heading our way.
Beaufort County is on the southern
end of the Low Country, a wide coastal
swale of barrier islands, rivers and swamps
that constitutes most of the South Carolina shoreline. Hilton Head is one of those
barrier islands; a small foot-shaped sand
bar bounded to the east and south by the
Atlantic Ocean and to the west and north by
the Harbor River and Skull Creek. There is
one way on and off the island by road.
A mandatory evacuation does not mean
you will be evicted from your home. Rather,
it means that if you choose to stay, you are
on your own. No police, no firefighters, no
medical services, no open stores, and maybe
no electricity or passable roads. The calculus
is self-evident. Do you stay and protect your
property (not from looters, but from the
effects of damage) or do you prepare as best
you can and leave?
If you leave when do you go? Early or
late are the only options otherwise you will
spend the day in a traffic jam going nowhere. You and hundreds of thousands of others are all heading
the same way—north and west. Where do you go? Where do you
stay? When will you get back home and what will you find when
you get there?
I was already in Raleigh, North Carolina, well away from the
coast and visiting a client. My wife and our two dogs arrived late
Tuesday, Oct. 4. We moved into a pet-friendly hotel to wait out
Our neighborhood, Wexford Plantation, has a private harbor
and lagoon system protected from the large local tides by lock
gates. Before leaving the island, the harbor master lowered the
water level by 16 inches to help with the anticipated storm surge.
People prepared their houses, double- and triple-tied their boats,
and hoped for the best.
Some 50 people, who became the Storm Troopers, elected to
ride out the storm in situ. Matthew arrived on Hilton Head in
the twilight of Friday, Oct. 7. The eye wall missed Hilton Head by
about 20 miles, staying out to sea. This tiny deviation made a crit-
ical difference, putting us on the left side of the (counter-clock-
wise) cyclone and slowing 110 mph winds to the high 80s.
The storm surge came, and in combination with an overnight
high tide, overwhelmed our lock gates and flooded the harbor
and lagoon system. At about 1 a.m. Saturday, before the harbor
flooded, a few of the more knowledgeable and intrepid Storm
Troopers, who had formed themselves into an organized self-help
group, set out to do two things—lower the harbor by an additional 16 inches and slacken the tie lines on many boats.
The former action meant only houses on or near the harbor
suffered minor flooding in their garages (the main living levels are
above ground) while the rest of us remained surge-free. The latter
action, taken in howling winds and thigh-deep water, stopped
several boats from being capsized and sank, pulled over and then
under by ropes that were tied too short to allow for the rising water.
Catastrophes in the Age of Social Media
Waiting out the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew was anxious, but worthwhile.