Unfortunately, I’m entering another Thursday with a two-post week. I actually spent a lot of time on two OTHER posts, our Port Angeles Trip and a review of the incredible new McCrady’s restaurant in downtown Charleston.
But that was earlier this week, and now I’m writing from a hotel room in Atlanta, wondering if McCrady’s will even be there when we get back to Charleston. Or if we were one of the last people to experience the exquisite and exclusive tasting menu before downtown is unrecognizable.
Things escalated quickly. By our morning meeting at 9am on Tuesday, the entire climate had shifted from a normal work week to complete uncertainty. Hurricane Matthew was brewing off the coast of Haiti, now projected to skirt the eastern seaboard all the way up and past Charleston.
There’s an attitude about Charlestonians. Post-Hugo, a catastrophic hurricane in 1989, everything else is hearsay, and locals are willing to go down with the precarious, low-lying ship. My coworkers brushed it off as yet another ‘Floyd,’ the hurricane after Hugo that sent people scrambling out of town, only to sit for 24 hours on jammed freeways for the usual 90-minute commute to Columbia.
I spent the morning refreshing the maps until John called from work, saying that the Navy was going to start evacuating equipment and shutting things down, and that he would probably have to leave sometime later that week.
Back at my desk after a lunchtime run, my coworker came in with news that the Governor was ordering coastal evacuations. I was the first to say how ridiculous that was. Hurricane’s are unpredictable, and this one was probably going to be nothing more than a tropical storm by the time it reached us. But live streaming Governor Haley tell suspicious residents that evacuations were to start tomorrow, Wednesday, at 3pm and result in a total east-bound freeway reversal, made everyone on edge. Schools shut down. Businesses shut down. Games were canceled.
I left work at 5pm, unable to turn right out of the street my office is on, the usually empty side road was backed up well beyond my office. It took twice as long to get to the baby’s school, the traffic of people going out of Mt. Pleasant was so dense. We stopped by Whole Foods to pick up some water, thinking, if we stayed, we should try to be prepared.
Empty shelves. I grabbed the last couple gallon jugs and headed home.
At that point the gas stations were starting to run out of fuel, people were fighting at Costco, the freeways were already packed and the shelves at the stores were down to their last few items. The Governor’s address had caused a creeping panic through the low country, and Charleston started to empty out, with the military, college students and finally. locals, heading west towards Columbia, Greenville and north to Charlotte.
John had to work Wednesday, and I had to work from home with the baby, but we had a tentative plan to head southwest Wednesday night to Augusta, then finish the trip to Atlanta first thing Thursday. My office isn’t shut down, but we’re on a ‘limited schedule,’ so we decided I’d work as much as possible Thursday and Friday in a place where John had something to do and we could book a hotel. Most of the hotels in the Western part of the state are full.
After dinner, we packed up the car and headed towards the freeways, nervous for the traffic. Our entrance to the freeway was blocked off, and we were routed on the other side of the interstate, going in the reversed lane all the way to Columbia. (That experience made me totally dizzy). Opening up both sides and telling people to evacuate early had made the traffic non-existent, and we easily made it to Augusta before 10pm.
Thursday morning the news had changed. The coast of Florida was about to be hit with the worst hurricane in decades, in some places, since the 1800’s. The forecasters warned everyone to get out–truly a matter of life or death.
Monitoring the news while we drove to Atlanta, then from a coffee shop where I did some work while John and the baby went to the Aquarium, the reality of this hurricane, it’s strength and persistence, truly set in. Barring a complete shift, the damage is going to be catastrophic. There’s no other way to see it.
So, now we wait. Some of our neighbors and coworkers are waiting back in Charleston. Some of our friends evacuated. No one knows what the next few days will hold, whether we’ll head back on Sunday and get on with our week, or if power outages, downed trees, and flooding will completely change the city we go back to.
Thank you to our incredible Governor Nikki Haley for being so prepared, for getting people our early and safely, for thinking of those who cannot get out themselves with shelters and buses, and for not being complacent.
Tonight the hurricane will bear down on Florida. Thinking of those who decided to stay.