To Evacuate or Not to Evacuate

“To be, or not to be: that is the question
Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles . . .”
William Shakespeare—Hamlet (III, i)

I’m not a good card player. I came to this conclusion in 1989 during Hurricane Hugo. Every weather bureau and meteorologist said that Hugo was bearing down on St. Simons Island. They actually said “St. Simons Island” on national news. It was a big storm. St. Simons had weathered big storms but none had made a direct hit in a hundred years. Even Dora’s destruction— proceeded by President Johnson declaring a state of Emergency for St. Simons and the resultant sea wall of Johnson’s rocks down our coast—was not the result of a direct hit. Hugo was coming our way and coming a lot quicker than the “I’ll get there some day” Dorian. Hugo had speed and intensity. We were told to leave, and most people heeded that warning. But not my family. We stayed with a modicum of locals and holed up to watch the storm arrive. I spent the early part of the evening at Brogen’s South, peering out as the waves crashed against the pier. And that’s when I started playing cards with my Grandmother Frances. Her game of choice was gin rummy. Kind of ironic since family legend has it that my great grandfather lost a chunk of the north end of St Simons in a gin rummy game. He should have had Grandmother Frances play with him. We were playing for dimes, but I still think I ended up owing her $1,000,000. She kept tally on an index card with a small pencil nub. There were so many hash marks under her name, she flipped over the index card. At one point during the slaughter, I remember her looking up at me and asking, “Do you even know what you’re doing?”

Yes, I did. I was losing.

Luckily for us, not for Charleston, Hugo veered east, and we just got some of the bands.

The Sassers kayaking during the storm surge.(The Sassers kayaking during the storm surge.)

Now, normally, I’m not an evacuator. However, I will say that having just read Erik Larson’s book Isaac’s Storm about the hurricane of 1900 that hit Galveston and watching the footage of the Bahamas, I might change my mind. In this blog, I’m not justifying reasons for people to stay or leave. My take-home message is this: have a plan. And make it a good plan. Like the weather bureau of 1900 that thought hurricanes don’t cross into the gulf, or my father who believed hurricanes always follow the path of the Gulf Stream, I experienced a misguided sense of complacency from quite a few folks who stayed during Hurricane Dorian. Many have already forgotten the destruction that occurred after Irma and Mathew. Crews of tree service and utility trucks were in Glynn County for weeks after those storms. This sense of complacency will get you in trouble.

In preparation for potential storms, I prepare a cache of food, pet food, batteries, flashlights, portable chargers, ice, water, propane and gas to sustain my family for a week. I move most belongings to high ground and strap down the rest. I keep the cars parked away from trees. I service my generator and chainsaw annually even if they don’t need it, otherwise, when I need them most, they won’t work. A good website to look at is on the Southeast Georgia Health System Hurricane Preparedness page.

The basic outline with details on the site include:

Plan and Prepare

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare.
  • Even if you think you might stay, have an evacuation plan. Reserve a hotel room or speak with a friend who has a place you could stay. Fill up your car and pack a small bag with some clothes and toiletries.
  • Have a workable plan for your animals. They need to stay inside during the storm or travel with you during an evacuation. If needed, call a vet in the area you plan to evacuate to see if they can be boarded. Remember to take your pet’s records.

Make a Medical Plan

  • Again, whether you stay or leave, make sure you have enough over the counter and prescription medications to get you through at least one week. You’ll need them whether you’re out of town or the local pharmacy closes.
  • I also recommend evacuating to an area where a nearby hospital can treat any of your medical issues, should the need arise.

Create an Emergency Supply Kit: Above, I stated all the supplies I usually obtain. The website has a good list.

Prepare a First Aid Kit: There are plenty of great, pre-made first aid kits available. If you don’t have one, buy one. If you do have one, make sure the contents are not expired or have not been depleted throughout the year to treat small cuts and bruises.

Consider Health Limitations and Requirements: I think it’s important that one considers true limitations. If you’re pregnant or had surgery recently, I recommend evacuating to an area that has a hospital and can care for your needs

Emergency Resources: The website has a great list that discusses EMS services, emergency weather alerts, etc.

Hurricane Recovery

  • Always follow any water advisories.
  • Be wary of food in the refrigerator if the electricity has been off for any length of time.
  • Prevent mold after flood damage by thoroughly cleaning hard surfaces.

I can’t honestly tell anyone to stay or leave, but as I stated earlier, make an intelligent plan in advance. Realize that to stay is to try to weather the storm not to beat it. Be careful. And if the power is out and you’ve got a deck of cards, I’m always up to lose a game of gin rummy.