Hurricane Matthew was, in many ways, a new experience for people in my area. We have had bad storms, to be sure. There was Hurricane David in 1979, Hugo in 1989, and Floyd in 1999 (Hmm…. there seems to be a pattern here). While these storms touched the area in varying degrees, the Savannah coast is largely protected by geography. As hurricanes head our way, they tend to bounce off Florida and hit South Carolina instead. It sometimes concerns me that people will grow complacent and expect this to always occur. A direct shot into Savannah could potentially make Katrina seem like child’s play. In recent hurricane seasons, and even this year, we have had a number of near-misses. Some people prepared. Others watched halfheartedly for Jim Cantore and went on about their daily lives.
As the reports about Hurricane Matthew began to increase in frequency and it became clear that he was headed our way, emergency planning teams sprang into action. Evacuation orders were made. There was a clear plan for where people were to go, and even buses to make sure they got there safely and on time. I have to say, I was incredibly impressed with the thorough planning of our infrastructure. Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in particular were in cooperation with each other, employing streamlined evacuation measures, curfews, etc. Expectations from individual citizens were clearly stated and enforced. In a world where people complain incessantly about our government, here is a shining example of leadership done well.
My family lives about an hour away from the coast. Our county had a voluntary evacuation since we were in the zone where “tropical storm” winds were predicted. As we debated whether or not to bug out, I changed my mind several times. The temptation to head west and not stop until we saw tumbleweeds was strong, but in the end, we decided to hunker down and ride it out.
The day before Matthew’s expected arrival, I went into Prep Mode. There was shopping for non-perishable food and other supplies, gas for the generator, and straightening up the house. Now, I don’t even know how to explain this. Perhaps it was the change in barometric pressure, but I felt myself slipping into this bizarre domestic zone. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned. I scrubbed things in the house that aren’t on the normal weekly spruce-up list. I organized Jeff’s paperwork. (You would just have to see the before and after pictures to appreciate the depth of that sentence.) I put our emergency food supplies in plastic tubs for easy access and quick getaway, should that become necessary. My humble home looked like a show place. I suppose my thinking was, if my house blew away with the wind, it should be in immaculate condition before the roof was ripped off and the walls fell in.
When Jeff came home that afternoon, we swept the yard for potential projectiles. Lawn furniture, garden hoses, our rickety old grill, and anything else that wasn’t nailed down was stowed away so it wouldn’t come crashing through a living room window. The next morning, we made one last run to the store for extra food, then settled down to wait. And wait. And wait.
This part wasn’t so bad. We had electricity and Netflix until 1:30 am. I know this because I was still wide awake. That was about the time that things really picked up outside. Suddenly the decision to ride things out didn’t feel like that great of an idea. We experienced 45-50 mph winds, which sounded as if they we going to uproot our house and send us to Oz. Meanwhile, Jeff slept quite peacefully through the entire ordeal. I am still trying to forgive him for that!
We awakened the next morning to an amazing sight. Twenty-nine 100-foot-tall pine trees lay on the ground in an arc, facing away from our home. I stood at the window, mouth gaping open, as Number 30 crashed to the ground. Through it all, unlike the dear people of Haiti, there was absolutely zero damage to home or Haywood’s. I’ll take that outcome any day.
A change in the direction of the wind and we would have a very different story to tell, assuming we lived to tell about it. As things turned out, we spent a week without electricity, but with an ample supply of food, a guy who can skillfully wield a chainsaw, and the steady hum of a generator, I have not one thing to complain about. Not. One.
Here are some observations from the first few days after the storm:
- There will always be grumps. For them, every silver lining has a cloud. Perhaps they were without power, cell, Wi-Fi for a period of time. Yet they were alive and well enough to do their complaining. These people will be present in any and all situations of life. I am learning to ignore them.
I can only speak for people in my area, but there were many more who were proactive helpers, rays of sunshine, if you will.
- Linemen from 20 states left the comfort of their homes to sleep on a gym floor and work ridiculously long hours, with the sole objective of helping restore power to thousands of people they have never met
- As electricity was restored, many offered their use of their homes to others needing food, phone recharging, or hot showers
- Random strangers helped remove trees from roofs, roads, and driveways
- Both society’s “haves” and “have nots” donated and delivered food and water to those in need
- State and local infrastructure did an excellent job of planning and preparing citizens well in advance
- A local mayor who could have evacuated, stayed behind instead to help clean up his town after the storm. In fact, he took care of the needs of others long before turning any attention to his own home.
- Probably my favorite: For almost a week, there were no political arguments on Facebook.
While I certainly do not mean to diminish the devastation some people in Georgia, Florida, or South Carolina experienced as a result of Hurricane Matthew, my point is simply this: There is always a reason to be grateful. We need only to look at Haiti and know that even on our hardest day, we have much to be thankful for. Sometimes it’s difficult to see, but it is always there.