Growing up in the Midwest, aka “Tornado Alley,” we had annual school drills for what to do in case of a tornado, how to use the emergency exit door on the school bus, etc., but raising our son in the southeast, he has a whole different set of weather-related issues for which to be prepared. In 4th grade, he got a day off of school because the sole road onto our island was flooded out by the king tides. In 5th grade, he got 10 days off of school because of Hurricane Matthew. Today, he returned to 6th grade after 6 days of no school thanks to Hurricane Irma. Fortunately for us in all of these instances, our home remained water-free, although with Irma it came up about as close as it possibly could without actually doing any damage. For those of you who have never had to evacuate your home due to a pending hurricane, there is a myriad of factors that come into play before, during, and after the storm.
The first step is usually denial, best expressed with humor:
With hurricanes, you have the advantage of time and planning: because there can be literally weeks before a storm forms off the coast of Africa and approaches the US coast, there is time to prepare. When Matthew hit last year, it had been over a decade since the last storm found its way to our area and, despite the yearly doomsayers who predicted we were “due,” most residents became complacent and believed our little slice of coast to be more or less impervious, that Florida and the Carolinas would always bear the brunt of any storms for Georgia. That wake-up call, combined with the recent ravaging of the Gulf coast by Hurricane Harvey, had everyone here keeping one eye on the weather channel and mentally starting their hurricane prep to-do lists.
But all that lead time can also lead to a heightened sense of anxiety. Will it hit us? When? Where should we go? What should I pack? And we are lucky enough to have a portable home we could leave with–much cheaper than getting an inland hotel, many of which were already sold-out by Wednesday from Macon to Atlanta since a majority of Florida was already evacuating north trying to get ahead of the monstrous storm. So many people here without the means to evacuate had to be taken to shelters in Augusta, although fortunately the shelters also accepted pets. It’s a tremendously personal decision whether to stay or go and having lived through 2 hurricanes (and evacuated for both), I see both sides. Once an evacuation is deemed mandatory, there comes a point of no return after which if you need assistance, you will not receive it. Obviously by staying behind you aren’t any better able to protect your home from a falling tree or rising tide, but there is something to feeling like you are in charge by acting like a captain going down with his ship. Plus, evacuation is only the first part, there is still the re-entry protocol…it can take days for the all clear to return after the storm passes. We would have wifi, a tv and dvd player, games, books, plenty to eat and drink, power, water, and bathrooms (as long as the state park did anyway), so no complaints on our part to evacuate.
On Wednesday afternoon, I met my mom for lunch at the always-fabulous RAW Ingredients and was amazed to realize that she was still thinking that the Saturday night 70th birthday party she had planned for my stepdad was going to occur. I tried to dodge our evac plans by questioning that my stepbrother and his family were really coming from ATL to Tybee on the verge of a hurricane, but she was non-plussed. By the time we finished our sushi, we had hatched a plan to all get hotel rooms in town for Saturday night so we already off-island for a quicker escape on Sunday and that way we could continue the party at the Marriott post-dinner party. I picked up Jack and we headed into town to run hurricane-prep errands like getting prescriptions refilled, bank cash withdrawal, groceries, and gas. I had about 5 miles to empty by the time we got to the 4th gas station since all of the previous ones had lines around the block for each pump. At Kroger, we threw 3 cases of bottled water in our cart and I couldn’t help but recognize the blank stare on everyone else’s faces as we all walked around in a suspended haze of what-the-heck-should-I-buy-besides-water. I decided this was no time for my usual frugality and comparison shopping…we got a 12 pack of diet pepsi, dr. pepper, the “good” chips, crackers, chips, and granola bars vs. my usual cheapie brand selections, 3 bags of candy, a variety of cheese selections, and fruit that seemed pretty hearty (red and green grapes…guess what we actually forgot to take with us? The fruit!). By the time we left Kroger, my mom called to tell me that she got us hotel rooms but the venue for dinner party canceled. She was starting to realize this hurricane was a big deal.
On Thursday, September 7, the announcement came that Tybee would be under mandatory evacuation order starting at 8 am on Friday, September 8. I was confused as to whether that meant we had to leave the island by 8 am or just start prepping to leave at 8, but there was talk that the highway would flood with Friday’s high tide, so we finished doing all we could to help prepare our workplaces and home, and loaded up our hurricane provisions, hooked our 1963 Airstream up to my SUV, and got the heck out of Dodge. Ty drove my car and pulled the trailer with Jack while I drove Ty’s car with Krypto, aka, the most-neurotic dog on the planet, and we headed inland, away from the threat of a 10-15 storm surge that would likely wipe our island off the map if it came during high tide as predicted.
We got settled into our home-away-from-home around 1 pm on Friday in the Gordonia-Alatamaha State Park (side note, the GA State Parks website and reservation system could use a 20th-century refresh). It was a beautiful day, our campsite was right on a lake, and apparently there is no bug control inland to compare to the coast, because the “love bugs” were literally everywhere (side note, apparently they are attracted to the color white b/c my car was covered with them while Ty’s black car, not so much). We created a drink we called Tattnall County Punch: one part rum, 2 parts Crystal Light cherry pomegranate, one part Sprite, garnish with a side of lovebugs.
Those bugs were literally everywhere, landing on our clothes, faces, food, even Krypto could not escape them. Our reservation was through Wednesday and most of the other campers seemed to be escaping Florida. One site even had a box truck filled with all of their stuff…not sure how they ran power to it though.
Tyler was forced to play Uno with us (I got our first per usual so it was up to 2nd place play-off between Ty and Jack).
And Jack got to practice his boxing skills with our trash:
Saturday we drove around the area, taking in the beauty of the pecan tree groves, cotton fields, and small-town quaintness. Tattnall County is home to the Wiregrass Trail and there was a Miss Wiregrass Pageant scheduled for Saturday night along with a variety of other old-timey events later in the month. Vidalia, home to the best sweet onions you’ll ever taste, was much bigger than I expected, and we drove past the “world famous” fruitcake bakery in Claxton, GA, although we didn’t stop. We even had lunch at Dairy Queen!
By Sunday, the storm looked like it was going to come up the west coast of Florida and hit more inland Georgia than coastal, so we were again faced with another evacuation…better to ride out the storm with wind gusts and potential tornados in a tin can or head home? We opted for the latter and returned, settling back into our dark, boarded-up house by about noon. The storm hit in full on Monday and we lost power, so we went back out into the Airstream to at least have some natural light. Then the surge came and our street became a river. We unhooked the trailer in record time and drove through the knee-high water in our yard to higher ground. Side note, our yard is about 90% fire ants: did you know those suckers will bond together and make floating islands? Loads of fun to walk through knee-deep water AND get ant bites.
Although the water came up fast and high, it spared our home and trailer and we had power restored by Tuesday night, the boards were taken down by Wednesday, and even wi-fi was quickly restored, much to Jack’s relief. After a solid week+ of family time in close quarters, some of it without power, I was very happy for things to return to normal and purge my “hurricane brain” of not knowing what day it was. Here on Tybee once Labor Day passes, the IGA usually changes their sign to say “back to normal” with the r intentionally backward to represent the quirkiness that is Tybee without the tourists and I couldn’t agree more. Many islanders experienced devasting flooding to their homes so we were truly lucky to have dodged Irma’s wrath.