On Monday, October 3, I was mostly head's down in work, preparing for a business trip the next day. I was set to leave for New York for a major annual event. That evening I canceled my trip. It was looking more likely that Hurricane Matthew was moving closer to an East Coast landfall path, putting Charleston in its sight.
Before Governor Haley announced coastal evacuations in South Carolina, some preparations were already complete. Not many, but some. Looking back, these few steps taken saved a lot of time and aggravation. I remember, on the Saturday before Hurricane Matthew starting inching north in the Caribbean (October 1), feeling a sense of urgency to get a few things taken care. The cars were gassed. The essentials were stocked.
It wasn't until mid-day on Tuesday, October 4 that my wife and I made the decision to evacuate Charleston. She was really pushing to; I was on the fence. I wanted to wait and get a better sense of Hurricane Matthew's path. Neither of us had ever been in a situation where evacuation was ordered. We had a lot of work to do in the next 24 hours.
Up until the time we left on Wednesday, October 5, I was still second guessing if it was the right decision. Would the house be ok? We should stay and make sure. If we leave, could we get robbed? We should stay and protect the house. If Hurricane Matthew hits directly, would we be safe? Maybe not. We should definitely evacuate. We did at 4:30 am on Wednesday to try to beat the traffic.
The local news stations were recalling horrendous long lines of evacuees from Hurricane Floyd and Hugo; people stuck on highways and waiting hours to move. So, we decided to get an early head start.
Our Hurricane Matthew story is tame compared to many in South and North Carolina. We were lucky. Hurricane Matthew spared our community from major damage. We had about a week's worth of clean-up and some minor issues, but nothing major. We also had a plan and good teamwork to accomplish a smooth evacuation.
Here's why our Charleston evacuation was smooth:
- We had a lot of essentials on hand already as part of our regular household preparations. We also had emergency funds to cover the unexpected.
- We monitored the Hurricane Matthew story regularly via local news and weather channels. I really do commend the meteorologists and our local government officials for being ahead of the storm in their warnings. It was very helpful.
- We had a jump start on some basic preparations that can eat up a lot of time. By Tuesday afternoon, October 4, gas lines were 30-40 cars deep in our community and stations were running out of gas. Water, batteries and essentials flew off of store shelves. Ensuring we had these things taken care of well in advance saved a ton of time.
- We secured hotel accommodations quickly, in advance of evacuation. This was challenging because we had to have pet-friendly accommodations for two large dogs and four adults. We needed two rooms.
- All family members pitched in to help prepare, from securing items outside to bringing plants and outdoor furniture in, and packing and gathering eseentials for the evacuation. By late Tuesday evening we were ready to go with some great teamwork.
- We left in advance of "official evacuation times" and were on the road early in the morning to beat traffic. Importantly, we avoided major highways on our evacuation route and kept re-routing options open if we had to.
What we learned as "first-time evacuees:"
- Don't underestimate the importance of planning and preparation. A little goes a long way and saves time. Have a checklist prepared and add to it over time.
- Have essentials on hand and ready to go. If you have pets, this means also having up to a week's worth of food.
- Have your critical papers in order and ready to go with you - birth certificates, Social Security cards, marriage certificate, auto titles, etc. - anything you consider important and valuable.
- Have enough cash on hand for 4-5 days. How much that means is an individual choice based on your circumstances.
- Check your ego and remember it's better to be safe and protect your family appropriately.
- It's tiring and stressful. I was second guessing myself but preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
- Once we evacuated and got to our destination about five hours and 200 miles Northwest of Charleston, we were constantly glued to the news and weather stations. We wanted to see if we made the right decision. We did.
- It was hard to focus on work. Thankfully, my employer is super cool. So is my boss.
- Evacuating your home with your family begins to put little things (and big ones) in perspective. Be kind and all the things your mom may have taught you. Remember possessions can be replaced. Family can't.
- If you evacuate with dogs, find a local dog park at/near your evacuation destination. Dogs get stressed too and being able to let them loose in a dog park was a fantastic treat for them. We visited the dog park many times.
- We resisted the urge to return home immediately after the storm passed. Staying an extra couples days ensured a trouble-free trip home.
- While it didn't impact us, we learned that the local highway lane reversal on I-26 didn't allow for evacuees to exit the highway until they traveled to Columbia. This meant not being able to exit on I-95, which may have been a huge issue for some. Luckily, by taking alternate evacuation routes, we avoided potential hassles.
- Securing our hotel accommodations early meant we had a place to go to. We learned a lot of upstate South Carolina, Asheville, NC, Charlotte, NC hotels sold out quickly. By deciding to go a little farther, we locked in accommodations for up to a week.
- Evacuation is stressful and expensive. What really helped us was our emergency fund and the bank of hotel rewards points I built up through work travel. This covered nearly all of the hotel charges, except pet fees, saving us about $2,000 in emergency expenses.
- Regular car maintenance is important, especially when you don't have a lot of time to jump up and go. We had no car issues, which is noteworthy because one of the vehicles we used for our evacuation was a 1974 Oldsmobile. Reliable transportation helps lessen the overall stress.
- Our community in Charleston, overall, was very lucky. Some areas are harder hit than others. And farther south was hit particularly hard.
I wish all of the people everywhere, affected by Hurricane Matthew, a speedy and safe recovery. Disaster relief information is available at the SC Emergency Management Division website. Hopefully this helps a little for anyone put in this unexpected situation.