Hurricane Lessons


Today is my son’s 28th birthday. He and his older sister survived Hurricane Hugo in Summerville, South Carolina on September 22, 1989 when he was not quite a year old, and she was nearly three years old. And now they have survived Hurricane Matthew.

I can vividly remember the television announcements in Summerville as Hurricane Hugo approached. I hunkered down with a family who had a house that had been built by a building contractor for himself. It seemed the safest place to ride out the storm. The television announcements carried on and on about how we should evacuate. Then, suddenly, the announcement changed. “If you have not left yet, don’t leave now. Do NOT leave now! Find a safe place to ride out the storm!”

The family I stayed with and I set up pallets for my children in their hallway, away from all windows. The children slept through the storm, but the adults watched and waited. The winds were amazing. We listened as the wind howled outside. The power went out. When the eye of the hurricane passed over, we very briefly went outside. Then quickly back in as the winds came again.

The house was intact after the storm, with minimal damage that I recall. But with many trees down, no running water, no power, and no telephone service, Summerville didn’t seem like a place I wanted to be. We packed my children up and drove a long way to stay with relatives of the family I rode out the hurricane with. The trip away and the trip back were eerie. Trees were twisted and snapped off. Nothing looked like it should. I was working at Waffle House at the time, and had no way to contact them to tell them what I was doing. When I did return about a week later, I was told that if I hadn’t returned that day I would have been fired. I was told about all the tips the waitresses received for working after the storm.  I was far more concerned with my children’s safety than with money, and I was frustrated that the Waffle House manager didn’t seem to understand why I left. I found a different job shortly thereafter.

In September of 1999 I was living in Camden County, Georgia. We were told we should evacuate for Hurricane Floyd. The memories of Hurricane Hugo were so vivid in my mind, I insisted that we leave as quickly as we could. My husband and I packed both our vehicles to the gills, and with our three children headed off to his mother’s house. Our youngest was very nearly the same age her brother had been during Hurricane Hugo.

What was normally a 4-hour trip was a 12-hour trip as we evacuated for Hurricane Floyd. When we returned we found that the only thing that had happened at our house was that our welcome mat was flipped over. One of our cars had not been running well, and did not survive long after the hurricane evacuation trip. My husband and I ended up feeling like the evacuation was very expensive and served little purpose.

When we heard Hurricane Matthew was on its way, we thought we’d hunker down and ride it out. But when school was cancelled and we found out we could both get off from work, we decided to take a trip to see my mother-in-law again. This time one of our cars had its’ “check engine” light on, so we left it behind. We packed three days’ worth of clothes, our wedding album, and our youngest daughter’s baby book. And our cat. As we headed out we heard that evacuation had become mandatory. Our usual 4-hour trip was only 5½ hours this time. A huge improvement over the 12-hour saga leaving for Floyd!

At my mother-in-law’s house we watched the weather on television occasionally. But we avoided watching the news too much for fear of upsetting our youngest daughter. She knew her sister had stayed behind in Jacksonville, and that her brother had stayed behind in Kingsland, and we didn’t want her to have too much reason to worry about them. As it turned out, they both came through the storm just fine.

We left on Thursday and returned on Sunday. When we got home we found our Yum Yum sauce in the refrigerator was discolored, and that the things in our freezer had thawed and refrozen. So we chunked all the contents in the trash, cleaned the fridge and freezer, and bought new food. Aside from losing two day’s pay, the expense of travel, and about $60 to replace the food we lost, Hurricane Matthew had little effect on us. However, many others in Camden County experienced greater losses, and the death toll for the people in Haiti hurts my heart every time I think about it.

Each hurricane I experienced helped me focus on what’s most important, and that is family. Most things can be replaced (with the exception of wedding albums and baby books!). Relationships cannot.

As we experience life’s storms, whether they be physical, emotional, or spiritual, let us be about helping others along the way. Don’t use another person’s loss for your gain, as those who loot and steal. As we set about caring for one another we all become stronger and healthier.


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