In the Wake of Hurricane Florence

The start of 2019 for many people in my home town will begin unlike any other… in an attempt to regain, rebuild and recover from what was the worst week of my 28 years of life; the week of Hurricane Florence.

This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Hurricane Florence off the eastern coast of the United States on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. (NOAA via AP)

We’ve been through many storms, and the preparation was the same as all others before her… we began the boarding of windows, tying down anything loose outside, and getting the generators ready. Only this time, the threat level was very high and it hit us very fast. We were looking at a massive storm that could potentially hit us on the East Coast at a Category 5. This reality of coarse, created panic almost statewide and residents began to face the difficult decision of whether to “hunker down” and ride out the storm at home or take their family and evacuate to safety.

To some people, the decision to stay or go was a no-brainer… you should take your family and leave! However, this concept is factually INCORRECT in some circumstances. I will use the situation of my own family as an example.

My husband and I prepared our vinyl siding covered modular home, loaded up some clothes, our 3 year old son and our puppy and headed across town to my parents home. The solid brick home where they live is equipped with custom hurricane windows and was no doubt the safer of the 2 options. Each of us were rattled by the decision we were forced to make and our options were very limited for several reasons…

  1. We had 4 dogs, and our animals are our family too.
  2. My granny lost a leg to cancer years ago and was completely dependent on a wheelchair as well as handicap access.
  3. Traffic in all directions was at a standstill from evacuees fleeing the state of South Carolina. We had evacuated from Georgia during the last, much less severe hurricane and what should have been a 3 hour drive turned into a 10 hour nightmare.
  4. We knew that if we chose to leave, we would have to separate. My mom and dad would have to stay home with the dogs and my husband and I would have to take my son and granny to a hotel.
My son, Liam in our local grocery store where food and supplies were empty
Our local grocery store just before Hurricane Florence

At this point the stores were running out of food, gas and water. Places were beginning to close down and people were in a dangerous and sometimes violent state of survival mode. Our nerves were shot and by now I had shed many tears over the stress of leaving my home, facing these difficult decisions and preparing for a life threatening event. I remember at one point looking over at my 3 year old son’s face and noticing that he could feel the tension, yet he looked to me with so much trust in his eyes. He was so completely helpless, and it was my responsibility to keep him safe. More afraid and lost than I ever had been before, I prayed to God in sheer desperation, that he would place us where we needed to be and protect my family and I in the days ahead.

We chose to stay. We couldn’t risk being stuck on a road or running out of gas with our toddler and handicap / extremely diabetic grandmother, and who knew when we could get back in… hotel rooms aren’t cheap. Not to mention we couldn’t bare the thoughts of facing this storm while being apart. We decided to “hunker down”. Together.

Hurricane Florence began to roll into the little town of Loris in the early morning hours of September 14th, 2018. For more than 24 hours, she unleashed her fury around us and all we could do was tense up, pray and ride it out. The winds whipped around us with unbelievable force; bending the tall, strong pine trees onto their sides. I remember listening to the wind whistling through the roof, the sounds of limbs cracking around us and the banging of debris hitting the house. I was faced with the realization that the large, sturdy trees which I had always considered fixtures to Earth itself were now at the mercy of mother nature.

The back yard of my parents home during Hurricane Florence

When the wind died down enough, my husband and I made our way across town to our home which appeared to have only minimal damage. At first glance we had lost a fair amount of shingles on the left side of our home, the roof to our well house had blown off and the well itself had partially caved in. On the inside however, there was a far more severe problem. Two rooms (walls, ceiling and carpet) were completely soaked in rain. We knew that this had to be dealt with immediately because the rain bands were just beginning to roll in and we spent the remainder of that day patching the roof and pulling up insulation. My heart broke as I stood in my little boy’s bedroom and reached down to pick up a sopping wet stuffed animal. All of his toys and things he loved most were ruined, yet I was overcome with the realization that he was safe with my family. The following day our electricity was restored and we decided to return home and begin damage control with high hopes that we had stopped the water in time to avoid mold and mildew.

That night, although exhausted from stress, should have been a welcome relief as we all laid safe in our own bed; however, it would prove to be the most terrifying yet. There were a total of 8 tornadoes in Loris that night. That was an emergency alert every 15 to 30 minutes. We had no experience with tornadoes and the fear of the unknown was excruciating. All that we could do was close the alert, watch the skies, wait for the winds to calm and prepare with our family in the bathtub of an interior room. We had no control of this situation and every little minute of that night was spent in horrible intense fear.

The next morning, I was delirious from exhaustion. The severe flood warnings had also began the night before but, yet again we had never experienced flooding. And definitely not to the magnitude as we were seeing now. I now realized that we had little to no food in our home due to the damage and power outage and I began panic because I knew the water levels were only rising. I knew that my mom had a large stock of food from the canning that she does each year and I decided it was best if we went back until the flood waters began to recede which would be days away. I left my home to check the conditions and for the best route to transport us. As I sat at the end of our road and looked to my left… I could see that water was rushing across the road at about waist high. As i looked to my right I could only see barriers and a gaping hole in the ground where a bridge once stood.

These were the only ways out, and we were officially trapped with no food nor water. I stared at the sky which was eerily calm with the exception of dark grey clouds that seemed to rapidly race past which felt like a direct threat of further devastation. I could take it no longer. I had a newfound respect for mother nature and her ability to debilitate us as humans. We are powerless to these natural disasters and I now understood first hand. I no longer could trust the sky above me, nor the ground beneath me and that was a level of fear I had never known. Although I am 28 years old with a baby of my own, I rely on my mama every single days. We are like peas and carrots, she and I. So I called her in my moment of complete desperation. I told her calmly there was no way out and that we were trapped, I was looking for a comforting response to calm me in a way that only she can.
Little did I know that her motherly instincts had also kicked into full gear and they were on their way. “Come hell or high water”, she was going to save her babies. With permission from a farmer and a 4-wheel drive chevy truck, they made their way through deep water, a soybean field and woods until they reached my driveway. As I saw that red struck covered in mud and still steaming… I have never felt more relieved. Tears filled my eyes as we loaded our our little boy into his car seat and made our way back towards the comfortable security of my parents home.

It was the following day when we received word that two old friends and amazing people had lost their lives from the conditions of this storm. People on facebook were sharing photos and videos of the remnants of their lives and rode in canoes through waters waist high inside of their homes. There were multiple pleas from people who were trapped and needed to be rescued and our entire area sat back as the water intruded into our homes and businesses. Life had seemingly stopped for everyone. Working, driving our cars and leaving our “safe spot” was not an option. Stores that were open were bare and food nor gas trucks could get into our county by now due to collapsed roads and flooding. We were like an island, and that my friends is a scary feeling.

A lady prays as she rides through her home in a canoe
Residents in a canoe assess the flooding of their home

When the waters began to recede, life seemed to continue again just as abruptly as it had stopped and we were left with the trauma of this week from hell. We were left with complete destruction and the loss of over a week’s pay. We were left with road closures and an intense search for places to live. But most devastating of all, we were left with funerals to attend and the comforting of grieving children that these kind souls had left behind.

This week changed many people, some for the better and some for the worse. We were either humbled, grateful or greedy at this point and it was nothing but simple human nature in response to a situation that was out of our control. Some of us thanked God above that we were safe, some of us were getting ready to suit up and help those in need and some were unbelievably trying to profit off of this horrendous disaster.

Of all the intense emotions that I felt through the coarse of this ordeal, I would find them to be nothing in comparison to “In the Wake of Hurricane Florence Part 2“. Keep an eye out for the most phenomenal, powerful and uplifting set of events yet.

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