Power went out at about 3 a.m. Saturday. The wind was howling
and trees were falling. Some houses were surrounded by knee deep
water. By all accounts it was a long and scary night.
The Storm Troopers had, in advance, created an email
group, along with phone numbers, Facebook pages, and
other contact information. They checked on each other
throughout the night and provided crowd-sourced updates
on water levels, road flooding and power situations. A few
people had generators. Most used their cars to recharge cell
phones. When the storm passed on Saturday several people
started 100 amp generators on their boats to feed laptops,
refrigerators, and other essentials. Everyone knew who had
power, who had gas (and could therefore heat food and boil
water), and what obstacles lay between them and their fellow
Apparently, the scene on Saturday morning was apocalyptic. Hundreds of trees had fallen in the night. All roads were
impassable. Many houses had trees on their roofs and some
houses could not even be seen. Fifteen inches of rain fell in a
As daylight came and the winds began to ease the Troopers
slowly and carefully negotiated the assault course between them
and surrounding homes to check on each other and their neighbors’ properties. A popular destination was to houses where the
owners had the ability to make coffee. Tweets, texts, email and
Facebook postings started to appear providing the evacuees with
statuses on their homes.
We had evacuated to various population centers from Atlanta
in the south, to Augusta, Columbia, Greenville, Charlotte, and
Raleigh in the north. And there we sat: distant, blind, helpless
and slightly desperate, staring at our phones and laptops and
indiscriminately trafficking facts, rumors and misunderstandings.
The early going was chaotic as the remote, evacuee-network
lit up like a candle and, just like the broader internet, traded a lot
of noise disguised as signal. Much of this felt like a remote version
of that game we have all played where we stand in a circle and
people in turn whisper a message to their neighbor, which, when
it returns to it point of origin, is bizarrely distorted.
By mid-morning, signal had gained the upper-hand. The
Storm Troopers were sending not only texts and email but also
pictures. Soon we evacuees were seeing what was going on with
our houses. By mid-afternoon on Saturday the wind had died to
a level where drones could fly and amazingly we started to receive
video files of our homes showing not only the view from the
ground, but also from the sky.
Before Hurricane Matthew even left our island behind, we
saw exactly what we would be coming home to, without knowing
when that would be. Our personal result: a few shingles off the
roof, some flashing hanging down, and a 30-foot magnolia tree
sprawled across the driveway. The irony was that having recently
contracted with a tree company to come and remove that same
tree and three of its sisters, we got a free-bee out of the storm.
From Saturday afternoon until Tuesday, when we were al-
lowed to return, we dealt with irritation, listlessness, lack of
focus, and the smell of wet dogs and Chinese food contain-
ers. As we dealt with these First World problems, we digested
the fact that Matthew had killed more than a thousand
people, overwhelmingly in Third-World Haiti. The poor and
beleaguered people of Haiti had no chance. The hurricane
was at that time a category 3-4 monster with 130 mph winds.
People with no means of communications, didn’t know it
was coming. When Matthew arrived, they had nowhere to
go other than shacks and shanties, which blew apart like
matchwood. When debris became air-born missiles, there
was nowhere to hide. Even worse—and next—would come
deadly disease born of foul water, lack of medical supplies
and attention, and the inability of emergency workers to
reach remote areas.
Back in the First World, we spent the remainder of the weekend and early the following week watching You Tube videos of our
mayor and sheriff giving updates, encouragement, and requests
to stay away until the relevant authorities had returned to the
island, checked the safety of our bridges and causeways, cleared
our major arteries, and reopened our local hospital.
We made our way back to Hilton Head on Tuesday evening,
Oct. 11. While the scenes of downed trees were fairly spectacular,
no houses were destroyed (although many were damaged) and
no lives were lost. The power was off, so we heated food on a gas
burner and ate a candlelit dinner. We emptied the fridge and
freezer and wondered where we might find baking soda to absorb
the smell of rancid food.
On Thursday, the power came back on. On Friday, the water
supply was declared safe. Three days later we had broadband
internet again. The downed free-bee magnolia is gone. A 90-
foot pine tree leans against two neighbors in our front yard and
groans when the wind gusts gently. Our swimming pool remains
unusable—trashed by debris. Eventually, the tree guys and pool
people, who are working 20-hour days, will get to us.
The fact that we will wait this long is testament to our luck at
avoiding any major damage. Not only did we avoid major potential damage we even knew it before we saw it. Our stay in Raleigh
was like a technical version of binge-watching a TV series, but
in this instance we binge-watched websites like Weather Underground, which are factual, accurate, and data-rich. We monitored
the Facebook pages for the mayor’s office and sheriff’s department and exchanged endless texts and email with our fellow
evacuees and the wondrous Storm Troopers.
This was our first hurricane in more than 20 years. It was also
our first social media catastrophe. It was the first time I was thankful for the existence of You Tube, Facebook, and Twitter. ITA
George Grieve is a popular writer and speaker on the
subject of insurance technology solutions. He is the author of a book composed of a collection of his popular
columns, “Shop Talk,” and is CEO of the consulting firm