Evacuating Takes Huge Emotional Toll
By Sheryl McAlister, a writer based in SC.
We had dinner reservations last night that were delayed a bit by a bunch of people from the South Carolina Lowcountry who had landed in our city after a slow drive away from the coast. After a glass of Syrah and some much-needed perspective, I chilled out about those few extra minutes we had to wait for a table. I have walked a mile (or driven) in their shoes before. And it is a terrifying, stressful ordeal. I should have remembered that last night.
If you’ve never had to evacuate an area before in advance of a pending weather condition, you can’t really appreciate the toll it takes. It’s not just the physical toll of boarding up a house, pulling in every piece of outdoor furniture and anything that might take flight and blow through windows. It’s the emotional toll of filling up whatever vehicles you have and driving away, completely uncertain if your home will still be there when you return.
I lived on Fripp Island for a few years. Usually described as a vacation resort community, there were also just under a thousand permanent residents on this barrier island in Beaufort County, South Carolina. I remember one early September day in the middle of hurricane season when my gut told me it was time to leave. There had not yet been a mandatory evacuation, but the island was making plans for one. The die-hards would stay, no matter what. They were told there would be no help coming if they didn’t evacuate. And the local emergency officials collected names of their next of kin, just in case.
We stored lounge chairs, plants, rocking chairs and everything else from outside in the garage. Our strategy was to have about a week’s worth of food and water for our three dogs just in case we were stranded on the interstate. Once we determined how much space that would take up in the car, we packed two cars full of stuff we wanted in the event everything else washed away.
With due respect to the survivors of last year’s floods in South Carolina, at least we had the luxury of packing up the things we wanted. They didn’t.
We had plenty of time to make decisions, but I knew the clock could start ticking at any time based on the weather patterns. Would we need this? What about that? When it all boiled down to it, the practical choices were the ones we made for our dogs and ourselves based on the potential of being stuck in non-moving traffic on our way to Columbia. The final choices were sentimental.
As we backed the cars out of the driveway, we stopped briefly to look back at the house we loved, filled with all we had accumulated in a lifetime. Then with heavy hearts, we pulled away.
Each of these evacuees has been through the same process. No matter their circumstances in life, they have left nearly everything they owned behind. This is not a great adventure. This is not a field trip. This is real, and it’s scary.
We hope and pray the storm keeps turning east away from the coast. Hope is not an altogether useful strategy. But sometimes, it’s all you have.
Copyright 2016 © Sheryl McAlister