Thursday, October 13, 2016

Things I knew but didn’t KNOW, know about living in an area hit by a hurricane…

I reside in Coastal Georgia and most of you probably know we, along with Coastal SC and the east coast of FL got our collective asses kicked by Matthew.

Chances are you've read or heard first hand stories of what it’s like to live in an area hit by a hurricane. I know I have. The reality is cool, terrifying, heartbreaking, expensive, tedious, plain old crazy, and at times wonderful in a twisted way. 

Coastal Georgia has a long history of being missed by hurricanes. They almost always skip us and hit the Carolinas. My husband and I have lived on the coast of Georgia for over thirteen years and we’ve been smacked by many a tropical storm and tropical depression, but never, EVER have we been concerned about actually being hit by a hurricane. Most of us here have become somewhat blase about hurricane threats, doing token stock ups on water and liquor in case the power goes out, but not expecting it to be out for long. 

Tropical Storm Hermine took out our power for thirty hours in September, and that was the longest we've been without in years.

It seemed like our county commissioner was mentally in the same place as us. It was at the eleventh hour he issued a mandatory evacuation. And thank God he did.

Almost every single business in Savannah was set to stay open through Matthew, even though a suggested evacuation had been issued. The islands had been evacuated only because their Mayor demanded it. Although our city officials were urging us to leave, no one was willing to lose money if it wasn’t going to be a big enough storm to warrant a mandatory evacuation. 

Some of us knew a mandatory evacuation was imminent. Every single gas station ran out of gas. Every single grocery store ran out of bottled water and bread. 

People loaded up their kids and dogs, and the lucky got hotel rooms in the nearby area. By the time we evacuated all of the west coast of Florida had been evacuated, and a good chunk of South Carolina’s coast. Getting a hotel room in the tri-state area became near impossible for some.

We were lucky. I have brothers three and four hours away we went and stayed with, because they are awesome. Our biggest inconvenience was three days of being regulated to bathroom sex because my brother's guest bedroom doesn't have a door. (yes, we are THOSE house guests-we're sorry, not sorry)

When we all did evacuate it was end of days, zombie apocalypse type shit. I’m not going to lie, my husband and I had a total bucket list moment driving out of town down the east bound lanes in a sea of panicked citizens. People waved “Drive Safe & God Bless” banners from over passes. Others stood on bridges videotaping the mass exodus. 

Our normal four-and-a-half-hour trip turned into eight-and-a-half-hours. All day Friday we watched the newsfeeds for the status update from friends and neighbors who stayed behind, reading in awe or horror the stories that were beginning to stream in as the rains and winds grew.

We watched the weather channel and radar religiously. Saturday we were relieved or devastated when we found out who made it through unscathed and who didn’t.

It had rained 15-17 inches before the hurricane reached zenith. The storm peaked during high tide.

As hurricanes go, ours wasn't too bad. Matthew was a category 2 when it hit us, with 80 miles an hour winds. Friends of ours said it sounded like a constant freight train or never ending thunder, and their houses shook all night long.

Many areas were flooded. With the ground softened up the beautiful oak and pine trees our city is known for started falling like dominoes in the hurricane force winds. They took out power lines and people’s homes. They blocked roads. They killed two men, one whom was an army ranger. He had sent his wife and two small children out of town, but stayed for fear of looters breaking in...

You hear the stories of people losing their homes to natural disasters, but there is nothing like driving around your city with all the stop lights out, and piles and piles of fallen trees and tree limbs lining the sides of the roads. Blue tarps cover many roofs. Some still have trees through their living rooms, bed rooms, kitchens. Roads are blocked by giant trees. Huge piles of carpet and padding outside someone’s home lets you know they were flooded.

Shingles are spread like confetti in some places and you look around to see who has a spotty roof. A meat market lost its entire roof. Where it ended up, I do not know. 

We have friends who have lost their homes, and know countless others who are waiting for insurance companies to tell them if they can fix the damage or if their home is demolished.

At night there was complete darkness, save for the faint candle light glowing in people’s windows. For the first time since living in the city, we could see the stars clearly from our front porch and it was as lovely as it was bizarre.

Power companies tried to get grocery stores power going first. There's about ten grocery stores and food markets in a three mile radius from my house, and three times as many restaurants. While down town was spared significant power loss, since they have underground lines, the rest of the city was SOL. All save for one grocery store near me, all lost their produce. Meat, eggs, and dairy, frozen foods. Gone.

Multiply that with how many restaurants and grocery stores are along the entire east coast from Melbourne Florida, to Hilton Head South Carolina and you get some idea about how much and how long it's going to take to restock all these businesses.

The Georgia and Alabama Power Company guys are rock stars around here. You never get more excited and hopeful than when you see one of their big white trucks driving down your street. We'd throw parades for those guys if we could. We love them for their tireless efforts to restore power to our communities. We love them hard.

It's been nearly a week since the storm and the handful of restaurants that are open and operating are packed to the gills with people. Most of grocery stores' meat, dairy, and produce shelves are still empty. Tuesday, finding bread was a huge score. Finding batteries was almost just as good. We’ve been home for days and I still have yet to see more than one gas station that has gas. 

Most of the workers at these places had homes without power, but have been working since as early as Sunday. Unless they’re lucky enough to have a gas water heater they’d been taking cold showers. Possibly eating only what can be eaten cold or grilled. 

The islands didn't have water or working sewage in some areas. 

I had to fight hugging the checkout lady the first day I ventured out to see if any stores were open. I knew she’d likely been hauling debris out of her yard. Possibly her neighbor’s yards too, same as me. I knew she was without power same as me. But because she came into work the register I could buy one of the last loaves of bread off the shelf and D batteries for our lantern.

I’ve always been one of those people who practices gratitude. I’m grateful as fuck for the little things on an average day. On a day where my son is helping me clear out our yard and neighbor's yards, not because I asked him but because he wants to? On a day we’re watching a giant crane remove an oak tree from one of our neighbor's home? On a day our community is coming together to assist each other, and is just in good spirits because we’re all okay? On a day I scored D batteries and one of the last loaves of bread?

I was a mess of thankfulness. I still am.

Our city is going to be up and running in no time. It nearly is. Outside of the piles of fallen trees, blue tarps on roofs and such, everything is starting to look normal. The streets have been cleared of down trees, their sawed up remains piled along side the road the only reminder you couldn't traverse that street the day before. It's taken nearly a week, but our traffic lights are working. Almost every area in the low country has power again. It may take a minute for the grocery stores and restaurants to restock their supplies, but we're getting there. 

We’re all super resilient, and so lucky to be living in a first world country. It’s cliché to say, but it could have been worse. Florida took a devastating hit, but Haiti has been leveled. They were hit with a category 4 storm, leaving over a thousand killed, and who knows how many injured. It's estimated over 350,000 Haitians are in need of disaster relief assistance.

Here in Georgia, we’re going to have a few weeks that aren’t as cushy as we’re used to. It only took five days before our block had power, and more areas are getting fixed up by the hour. Those without water or sewage will have it again by the end of next week at the latest. 

My heart goes out to those who have lost their homes and have to live somewhere else while reconstruction is happening.

It’s a massively sucky situation, but I have yet to encounter one person in this entire city who isn’t in decent spirits and thankful that their family is safe, and it wasn’t worse. I'm sure they're out there. They're keeping to themselves.

In a time when our country is politically divided and being super ugly to each other, it was heartwarming to see how quickly people were to lend a helping hand. We rallied together and lifted each other up in our collective time of need. Even if this showing of goodwill only lasts as long as it takes my son to tie his shoes, my faith in humanity has been restored. 

As for the next time a hurricane may be heading our way...I have a feeling people are going to be preparing much differently, and taking the threat much more seriously.