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Hurricane Preparedness: Should You Stay or Should You Go?

Updated on September 17, 2017

Tropical force winds, up to 60 mph whipped tidal creeks into a frenzy, flooding many area homes

Shipyard Creek
Shipyard Creek | Source

It was hard not to be worried when major forecasters predicted 185 mph winds along a 500 mile radius to destroy the east coast

You are almost always skeptical of newscasters, even if you are not a right wing Republican believing it is all fake news, but really, how do you ignore predictions that the largest hurricane in over 100 years is going to wipe your 250 year old city off the map.

The city of Savannah sits in what many have referred to as the "armpit" of the south. The city lies in a recessed cove where the Atlantic ocean runs into two rivers; the northern most divides Georgia from South Carolina. From Florida to North Carolina, we've seen our share of killer hurricanes with damaging wind and rain, but over the last thirty years it seems almost all major hurricanes passed Savannah by at the last minute and slammed into South Carolina which juts out like a target into the sea when compared to Savannah.

So, as hurricane Irma moved ever closer with her spaghetti string prediction path scattered from just off the eastern coast to plowing into Louisiana after they had just been brushed by Harvey, no one really knew what they would do other than prepare and keep watching the news for as long as they could stand it.

"Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink."

One week before hurricane Irma hit Savannah as a "tropical storm", there was no water to be found anywhere, unless you wanted artificial strawberry flavor.
One week before hurricane Irma hit Savannah as a "tropical storm", there was no water to be found anywhere, unless you wanted artificial strawberry flavor. | Source

A week before Hurricane Irma made landfall in the US people were buying water like it was the latest iPhone edition

I had thought I would be smart and go after work to get some bottled water, just in case the storm, which was still out in the Atlantic and had not made landfall, should point itself in our direction. When I went by our local grocery store the shelves were already bare except for strawberry water.

I resigned myself to fill up some old jugs when the grocery store announcer said they had just brought in a pallet on aisle nine. Our grocery store is small with barely 60 parking spots, but by the time I got to the water, it was mayhem. I thanked God for strong arms and a bendy body and weaved past five shopping carts and six women blocking the aisle, dodged in front of a middle-aged man loading his 14th crate of water onto two shopping carts, smiled politely and said, 'excuse me" and hefted the forty pound behemoth back to my cart without making eye contact with anyone lest they give me the evil eye.

At this point there was plenty of soup, bread and peanut butter on the shelves, so my feelings were that these people intended to ride out the storm, but remembered Hurricane Matthew last October and having no power or water for nearly ten days.

Then, I had left Savannah last minute as the first bands of the hurricane were making their way on shore. My parents are in their 80s and I had gotten my larger animals to safety further inland, so there was no need to risk their lives or mine as we made our way to Augusta, Georgia in search of a hotel.

"Rain, rain go away, come again another day."

Source

When you live on the ocean, you expect hurricanes, but not two in less than one year

When we left for Hurricane Matthew in October 2016, we were prepared to stay for a day, maybe two and then return, but once we got there, we were unable to find a hotel. Unbeknownst to me, Augusta is a major evacuation city for those fleeing hurricanes on the coast, so we stayed with my cousins just outside the city, but after three days, officials were telling us that no one was allowed back in for another two days and no matter how much you love your family, there comes a point when you feel like you will go crazy if you can't get back to the peace of your own home, if it is still standing, and your own routine. By the time we got home, there were trees down everywhere and power lines and power poles snapped and leaning. My parents had a huge oak crash trough their living-room roof, but it did not go through the ceiling. It took almost six months to clean up and repair and many people in Savannah, myself included, have yet to remove damaged and fallen trees completely, so the fear of Irma was that it would be worse than Matthew.

It also did not help that we had had major rain storms almost every day since June and the ground was saturated with super high King Tides which brought creek waters level with the highways even with no full moon to drive it higher.

I started making calls to get the horse and goat to higher ground, but no one could help me. They were either full or wanted to "rescue" my pets and "give them a good home" or get me to hire a stranger to trailer them 300 miles away not knowing when they could return. On top of that, Hurricane Harvey had shutdown gas supplies and people fleeing inland were paying up to 80 cent more per gallon if they could get gas and not be stranded on the highway. Escape did not look promising for me or the animals, so I resigned myself to stay and planned to seek safe shelter in one of two concrete block buildings for which I had keys.

At this point it became a strategic planning game which included loading up a water cooler, filling the tub with water and putting together an escape bag filled with spare clothes, food, water and electronic devices.

I filled the washing machine, but it must have had a loose gasket somewhere and started to leak on the floor, so that was counter productive. Then I filled a rolling trash bin with 30 gallons of water for the horse and the goat promptly became curious and reared up to look inside and dumped the whole thing over just minutes after I had filled it. This did not bode well for the survival of either of us!

"A River Runs Through It'

I had never expected a flash flood in Savannah
I had never expected a flash flood in Savannah | Source

The next few days it was hard not to panic and we worried about friends trapped in St Maarten

I try not to watch the news that often. It seemed since President Trump had taken office, it was Trump TV seven days a week with no good news, just gloom and doom. North Korea was going to nuke us, we were going broke, immigrants were being rounded up and herded back to a country where they would be killed or find no way to earn a living or go to school. It all seemed bad and so when a friend mentioned a hurricane was forming in the Atlantic, it was genuinely news to me.

At first I did not watch any of the warnings, but when a news-feed came across my Facebook page predicting major US cities to be destroyed by killer monster storm Irma, I took notice. I still was not all that worried, but figured it would not hurt to start cleaning stuff around the yard and gather some non-perishable foods. We had a Tunnel to Towers race that coming Saturday, but it was cancelled prematurely we felt as the storm was not predicted to hit until Monday, but most people were already booking hotels and campgrounds outside of the predicted path and leaving early to avoid the massive crowds predicted to be in the millions,

Some friends of ours had saved up all their money to go on a once-in-a-life-time trip to St. Maarten and were promised by their airline, that if the storm turned in their direction, they would fly them out in advance, but instead they suspended service and the couple was trapped. They posted video of the storm's approach and their leaking hotel room which collapsed around them, yet they escaped to the lobby of the hotel and spent another three days with rationed food and water and machete wielding bandits trying to confiscate what little luggage they had with them before a military plane brought them to safety.

Seeing the live footage of the storm there made it seem more real to all of us in Savannah and it was then we really started to put a plan into action. Oddly, most of us who had left for Matthew decided to stay for Irma and most who had stayed for Matthew, left for Irma!!!

It seemed those who had left remembered the horrors of trying to get back and not being allowed or able to get to their homes and those who had stayed remembered how they had nearly died and been without power for weeks, with no shops open to refill on food, water or gasoline.




Water from the river covered the roads

Let the rains begin, and the wind and the sleepless nights

Friday, September 8th, our business shut down at noon after putting the computers on higher ground and covering them in plastic, shutting off circuit breakers and powering down the servers. It all seemed like overkill for what was now predicted to be a mild tropical storm. We were warned the greatest danger would be spin-off tornadoes.

We were told that the storm would travel to the west of us, through Florida and would weaken to a category one about 400 miles or more to our west. It was more likely that those people who had moved inland and upwards to Atlanta, Alabama and Tennessee would get more damage than Savannah.

I had borrowed some four by six boards from my father who was planning on building a deck but never did and used them to board up the horse's stall to five feet, thinking this would at least prevent flying debris and rain from pelting him.

Friends were posting cruel remarks about people leaving their pets behind and how they should be prosecuted or tied to a tree during 185 mile per hour winds as punishment, but my father always taught me that a human life is more important than an animal and if it comes down to you dying or your cat dying, leave the cat if you have no way to carry it and get out.

Me trapping my two feral cats and putting them in a carrier, when I could barely touch them without them crouching and running away, was probably not going to happen and there are few hotels that will take 30 chickens, a very fat goat who likes to eat anything she can get her mouth on and a very poopy horse that can put out 80 pounds of manure easily in the course of one day.

I was not going to leave them unprotected, but if it came down to it, I was seeking shelter and praying for the best for them and if that made me cruel, then so-be-it. It did not mean I did not love them or was not concerned for their well-being.

Still, I worried, more about them than me and even went so far as to set the live trap to catch a marauding raccoon so if I had to leave the chickens out at night, he would not eat them.

At one point I felt like my heart was going to explode and I prayed and prayed for God to give me the faith to trust in his will and to protect us all, humans and animals and homes from harm, but it was only until I saw that the worst of the storm would miss us that I could truly feel more at peace. I figure I will have to work harder on faith and letting go of things over which I have no control, but try to control anyway.

The worst of the wind and rains were predicted to hit us at 2 a.m. Monday

Saturday morning we went for a run as a massive exodus of the city took place around us

On Thursday evening, a mandatory evacuation for Savannah was given for 8 a.m. Saturday morning. A small group of us met at the lake to run for an hour before deciding whether to leave or stay. There were rumors of gas shortages to go along with water shortages.

After the run, I drove by Lowe's to buy a circular saw to cut the boards for the stable. They had plenty of water there as well as batteries and flashlights. If you are ever planning for a major weather event, go by the hardware store. They are always better prepared than the grocery stores and big box sellers who run out of everything and don't get a new shipment in until weeks after the storm is over.

People were driving like idiots, some even riding the lane lines and dodging and swerving in front of slower moving cars. I was glad to get home and out of traffic and spent the rest of the day picking up and burning limbs and preparing the stalls and filling water buckets just in case the power went out and we were not wiped off the face of the earth as predicted.

I spent that evening at my parents and made a plan with them that we would go to the church basement in case of a tornado warning. I actually slept well that night and went to informal church the next morning with others prepared to ride it out. That afternoon there was light rain and wind, but nothing too scary. It did not really start to rain until 4 a.m. Monday and again was not that bad. It was strange though, because it was chilly outside and you'd get gusts of wind and no rain and then steady rain and no wind. It was like they were taking turns at it or something.

As time progressed, so did the wind. Sticks and branches fell on the roof and a piece of metal, I have yet to find, went flying into something. The gusting wind which turned oddly warm and dry, gave way to more rain which kept up pretty much all day Monday, finally easing a bit and allowing us to go outside and look around before gusting more strongly and raining giant, thick drops that splatted rather than stung.

A friend posted that the high tide was coming in and the road to Burnside Island, about a mile south of me was being covered by the creek and blocking traffic. At this point the winds had died down a good deal and the sun was even trying to emerge so I decided to grab my camera and rain jacket and walk down to the road to get a picture.

Hurricane attire. None of us were dressed for success as we strolled the streets surveying the damage and praised God it was not any worse.

It's an eerie feeling to walk down a normally busy road with no traffic and tree debris scattered everywhere

At first I just ventured out in the paved road in front of my home. It had been newly paved and the feel of the fresh pavement on my bare feet was rather pleasant. I walked up and down the road gauging whether it was safe enough to wander further from home, went back in and put on shoes (later discovering I actually had put on two different running shoes of the same color!). I wrapped my cell phone in paper towels and two grocery bags interwoven to keep the rain out and tossed my point-and-shoot camera in a ziplock bag and started down the road.

I saw two SUVs and one giant pickup truck zoom past me crushing limbs underneath and someone in a jeep who seemed undecided about where they were going and kept turning around. That was a little creepy. Whenever I came across a branch or limb in the road, I pulled it to the side, but when I stooped to pick one up and a truck nearly ran over me, I decided to just leave everything there and let them crush it.

About a quarter mile from the house, the wind started to swirl and gust again and I moved out the road onto the sidewalk in front of what locals referred to as the Pig Pen Apartments, not because the people were trashy, but because there was a literal pig pen there back in the 1950s. One woman who lived in the area recalled her grandfather taking the row boat around after a 1947 hurricane struck and picking up the pigs in the boat to take them to high ground., but that was further back along the river.

There are two ways to get to Burnside Island; by Beaulieu Drive or Shipyard Road. Both run parallel to each other between the Vernon River and Moon River, made famous by crooner Johnny Mercer back in the sixties. I decided to go down Beaulieu as it had been a while since I had taken that route by foot and there was generally less traffic. Those giant dually trucks were no joke and had almost as much whipping wind coming off them as the tropical storm did. Technically Irma was a tropical storm when it hit us, but it sure felt a lot more powerful than the smaller ones we were used to getting this time of year.

When I got a little further down Whitefield I saw two trees down on power lines. That would explain the transformers blowing early in the morning. I was glad we still had power. We paid our dues in Matthew with ten days of no electricity or water... the joys of owning your own well.

The rain started to really pour so I pulled my cap down lower and sealed the hood of my rain jacket with zip cords and started to run into the wind. It felt good; primeval even and I felt like I could go on for miles despite the heat building inside the waterproof jacket.

About a half mile down the road I saw a black SUV parked in the middle of the road just sitting there. The way Beaulieu is shaped, it has some uphill climbs and downhill dips that are fun as all get-out to ride on your bike. The one dip, where the SUV was parked, was the steepest and at the bottom there was a creek/canal that rarely had more than six inches of water if that in it, but as I got closer I saw what looked to be a broken pipe only it wasn't water from a pipe but from the river itself as it overflowed it's banks into the drainage canal with a good foot to foot and half of rushing water.

I was a little taken aback by the swiftness of the current and did not want to get my mix-matched shoes wetter than they already were, so went back around to Shipyard where another tree was down in the road and water flowing from the Beaulieu canal, was now rushing out and onto the dip of Lehigh Avenue where two corner homes were flooding in three foot or more of water.

There was only about two or three inches of water on Shipyard itself, so I started to walk through cautiously when a small blue truck came barreling through the nearly foot and half high water on Lehigh. It was apparent he was not going to slow down to miss me, so I had to run in the opposite direction as a huge wave of water ran after me, flowing out over 100 feet from where the truck pulled through.

I wondered if he did not care about ruining his truck or realize this was corrosive salt water, not just rain water he was driving through, but he didn't seem to care as two larger trucks followed him, then the fire department.

At this point the wind really picked up and trees started cracking and the rain came again so I ran toward my cousins house on the bend of Shipyard and headed toward their covered garage for shelter, wondering what possessed me to go walking in a still unfinished and powerful storm.

As I jogged down their dirt drive, a huge burst of sustained wind nearly blew me backward and rain pelted my face so I could not see. I ducked my head and prayed and ran as hard and fast as I could. Up ahead I saw her house and ocean!!! Not the tidal creek with the tall green marsh, but grey/green water with whitecaps all around. Normally you cannot see the creek until you are right up on it, so this was hard to fathom.

Three to four feet under water is not a good place to be

When the storm that would never get here turns into the storm that will never leave

At work, everyone was complaining that the storm was taking forever to work it's way up the coast and this made predicting where it would land and how powerful it would be a real mystery. Those wanting to leave did not want to spend four nights in a hotel and then maybe three more after the storm had passed waiting to get back to their homes and those staying had done just about everything they could to prepare for a catastrophic event. It was the waiting that made people nervous. One lady said, "waiting for Hurricane Irma is like when you did something bad as a kid and your mom said, "just wait until your father gets home"." Everyone was a bit edgy and trying to time the openings and closings of businesses to serve the people staying, while trying not to encourage them to remain in harm's path.

As I sat under my cousins garage with a tiny waterlogged sparrow sitting under my Uncle's old truck and looking at me as if I needed to run out and turn off the sprinkler system, so she could dry off, I wondered how long this bit of wind and rain would last.

I had not expected this blast off the water which was rolling in waves as the floating dock bounced around barely hanging on ten feet higher on the water than I had ever seen it. Thankfully the water had stopped about twenty feet from the back porch and there were only a few shingles and some torn screens.

Whenever I attempted to peak around the house at the creek, the wind and rain drove me back, so I waited, resigned to spend the night there if need be and chastising myself for being a bit too adventurous and not following my own common sense that told me to stay put and not go out on foot.

I blame it on my young friend Hunter Cone who went to the beach the day before and took pictures of the high tides and roaring waves as they battered walkways and sand dunes. There is something special about getting out and seeing and recording things on your own to say you actually experienced it rather than hole up in a dark house and read a book or play video games while the power is still on.

About a half hour later, the rain stopped and I took pictures and said my goodbyes to the sparrow and cautiously wove my path back through swaying low limbs, prepared to run and jump at the slightest hint they were going to fall.

When I was standing by the lady in the SUV on Beaulie, a tree limb cracked in the woods and I jumped back and yelled, "TREE", as I pointed in the direction of the noise and everyone standing near the woman looked at me as if I was crazy. You could tell they were not horse people. Horse people jump and even snort when something scares them and then run and turn to face it once out of harm. If you are a horse person you are nodding your head in total understanding and if not, you think we are weird, but it that sense of self protection and moving out of harm's way gets ingrained in you when you hang out with wild animals and learn from nature by observing it. That's another reason why I liked being out here. It was simply fascinating to see how nature could be so fierce and unstoppable.

Some friends of mine had put down people who stated they were praying for the people injured by back-to-back hurricanes in Texas and the islands and stating that they would put their faith in science not God, but there isn't much science can do to stop a tornado, hurricane, wild fire or volcano or the shifting plates of the earth or rising tides of the ocean. You can conserve and recycle all you like, but an ocean is pretty powerful when it is stirred up by winds faster than a NASCAR race car over a 500 mile radius.

Sometimes praying is all you can do. Science is good at warning us and making stronger buildings, but it can't stop a hurricane from forming or landing, not just yet anyway, though it does seem like they could drop some kind of drying or icing agent into the center or run a powerful drone in the eye to create an opposite rotating force to break the winds apart, but that's all speculation at this point.

Flooded streets rolled over to flood houses and truck traffic barreling through just made the situation worse

Fair warning, even when you are not in the eye of the hurricane, the bands of wind can catch you off guard

I honestly had not expected that last blast of wind and rain. I knew it might still rain and gust a little, but not with such force. It was like the hurricane/tropical storm was giving it a last hurrah as it moseyed up toward Atlanta where half the population of Savannah had gone to to get away from the storm.

Charleston South Carolina was hit hard with flooding as well. To be honest, I did not keep up with it once it left our shores. When the rain stopped I ran back to Shipyard where some old friends were hanging out watching the emergency crews already removing the fallen tree and power line from the road. Lehigh was even more flooded than before and I hesitated whether to walk back through the calf deep water.

A man in a pick up truck was waiting for the tree to be removed before driving through and I almost asked if I could ride on his tailgate, but was too chicken, so watched to see if he got through and then waded in after him. It was a unique experience and I was glad to get home to a hot shower and dry clothes.


It's good weather for ducks and geese, but please let us dry out a bit

After the storm, friends helped friends return to life as normal as it could be depending on the damage

The next few days were spent picking up fallen limbs and sharing stories and pictures with friends, most of whom did fairly well, but some of whom flooded. My friends the Feathers had massive tidal waves of marsh grass known locally as wrack spill into their yard covering a half a football field with thick hollow woody sticks nearly a foot deep on the lawn and with water damage to the lower floor.

The Noah's on Burnside had water from the river and their pond overflow, burying a sports car and overflowing into air conditioning units and vehicles on the property. It will be a while before both of them clear up and count the damage and they were not alone.

While no lives were lost that we are aware of in Savannah due to the storm, there was a lot of property damage, especially along the river and Savannah is about one third rivers, so that's a lot of property.

Still, a lot of people are volunteering to help and those who stocked up on food and water are now seeking to donate it to those harder hit elsewhere, so some good is coming out of it.

The local YMCAs are opening their doors for free showers, hot coffee and WiFi as well as scheduling emergency childcare for K through 6th grade while school remains closed for a week and parents grumble that it is interfering in their lives to have to care for their own children when they need to return to work.

A hurricane or major storm that affects widespread areas and knocks out power and services and brings about food, gas and water shortages makes you see both the good and the bad that exists around you.

Most of us admitted we were excited by the storm and the danger to a degree. Our lives are so mundane and predictable and we all go our own way without really talking to neighbors or even family anymore and it is nice to be free of technology and cook food on a camp stove and play family games and talk and all manner of things we are too busy or too tired to do when things go back to normal again.

An overturned sailboat at Lake Mayer the day after the storm as an Egret struts on the overflowing banks

The day after the storm, which left less damage than Hurricane Matthew, was a playground for locals who stayed the course

The next morning, the winds were gone and the sun was out. The ground was still waterlogged. I went to Lake Mayer to see if any friends were running but there were very few cars there, so jogged through the local neighborhood which was still out of power and explored the island area of the lake. I had the entire island to myself and went to the playground, investigated overturned sail boats in the water and discovered a rock climbing wall and a roller runner (a rough ridged barrel that you run on while holding onto handrails for balance two feet above the ground) that I didn't know existed.

I climbed the kids sized rock wall and slid down a few slides. The gates to the tennis court were open, but it was just the pigeons, geese, ducks and me. There was very little traffic on the road.

It is strange to see a normally busy city emptied of all her people. A lot of people took advantage of the freedom from cars to ride bikes and check out the neighborhoods.

We were blessed not to get worse damage than we did and many are showing their thanks by donating to smaller charities which fix meals and provide clothing, food and water to those who are hardest to reach. We can all do a something to help someone else even if we can't replace their lost property and homes.

There are many storms in life, some that impact millions, some that can't be seen, only felt, that we have to work our way through and recover and rebuild. It would be nice if we never had to worry about fires and floods and pestilence and disease, but as bad as those things seem, if we can make it through and tough it out, it seems something better always comes out of tragedy.

As to whether you should leave or stay in the face of danger? In my opinion, if you have the means to get out and can take your pets and family with you, then go, Don't feel guilty about leaving everyone else behind and don't worry about losing your home or having looters rob you.

I know it is easy for someone else to say, things don't matter, you can get more things, and that if you are poor you can't necessarily get more things when it took you a lifetime to get what little you have, but it is always better to ere on the side of caution than to be stupid and stay and walk around in a storm that hasn't quite finished dumping on you yet!

Thankfully all of my pets survived and we did not receive a direct hit. Forecasters are already fear mongering us that hurricane Jose will hit and destroy us and we grow weary of those who cry wolf when it's only a chihuahua. Though those little dogs can be fierce and have a painfully sharp bite!

It's hard not to panic and stress when you fear for your life and property. If you have the means to help someone who has suffered, no matter how their lives were torn apart or damaged, definitely do what you can, even if it is only to pray or invent some tool to prevent a volcano from erupting on a populated city.

As for me, I am really tempted to go live somewhere away from floods and fires, but I suppose no place is totally safe from natural disasters. It is easy to get caught up in the fear. There are killer bees, rabid animals, rising tides, massive oil spills, whole cities laid to waste by mining and poisoning the land. It is enough to make anyone sick with worry, but you have to focus on the good things and concentrate on what you can do, not what you can't.

If you were in the path of the storm and bought non-perishable food and water that you haven't consumed yet, consider donating it to someone who is still without power or cannot move back into their home. It may not be much, but if everyone gives something back to help those in need, it might help the recovery go a little faster and if you are the praying type, please pray that no more hurricanes threaten anyone any time soon. The stress of expectation of what it can do is almost as devastating as what it actually will do and most of us have had our share of bad things for a while now.

Pray that North Korea settles down, Russia stops meddling in American Politics, people stop shooting and abusing other people just because they can. Pray that gangs, teach their followers respect and go around repairing old buildings and learning new skills to get them into the job force where they can earn a living respectfully and use their talents and abilities to help pull others out of an unpleasant life where no one wants to be.

We've all had enough of badness and hope that all these evils and incivilities, often disguised as "rights", blow on by like a weak storm that can do no damage.

Do what you can to control the storms of your own life before they overwhelm you, but don't let fear consume you. You are stronger than any storm, fiercer than any wind and rain and by your actions, you can create a better world for everyone living in it. Don't wait until the last minute to escape or find shelter, but have a plan and if plans A, B and C fail you, don't knock prayer. It has a surprising way of setting wrong things right and provides hope, comfort and peace when things go wrong. Stay safe out there and do your best to love your neighbors and help them knowing that by doing so, you make the whole world stronger, better and a kinder nation that respects all the people that live within it.

An empty playground after the storm with a new toy to try out after the puddles dry up around it.
An empty playground after the storm with a new toy to try out after the puddles dry up around it.

The Vernon River floods roads a quarter mile inland in Savannah during Hurricane Irma 2017

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