Lessons From a Novice Evacuee

Lessons From a Novice Evacuee


I don’t think I understood how chaotic storms like Hurricane Matthew can be for a coastal communities.


Like most things, hurricanes are easy to ignore when they’re not destroying your neighbor’s yard. I’m from Ohio. I’ve never lived on the coast before.

The evacuation process and how seriously Charlestonians took packing up and getting out was a concept I simply didn’t grasp. On Tuesday night, I was at a family member’s home watching the news where a local news station had ranked the storm on their own terror scale, a 7/10. My cousin and I looked at each other and realized the gravity of the situation. It became clear that we had to evacuate.

At that point, on Tuesday (the storm was supposed to hit on Saturday), evacuation is more of an adventure than a serious situation.

Enter Wednesday morning. I’ve never evacuated a thing in my life, except maybe a Taco Bell after eating a Crunchwrap too quickly. My cousin gave me great advice for a novice evacuee: always get gas ASAP, before the pumps run out in a frenzy. So of course, I didn’t get gas that night. Because I’m an idiot. I woke up early the next morning only to find my tank only a third full.

Only after passing two gas stations advertising their lack of gas had I realized my mistake. I scrambled out of my way to find gas stations that weren’t on major roads in order to fill up my tank and possibly get a breakfast burrito and a Coke. I only had to search for about 20 minutes, but that time would have been better spent actually making my way away from the impending storm, and worse, the traffic.

In my bubble, traffic was the scariest part of evacuating Charleston. There are only so many episodes of This American Life I can stand to listen to on one car ride. The night before, I had downloaded Waze, a navigation app intended to weave users around traffic rather than through it, on my phone. I was only on I-26 for a few miles before Waze directed me to the Summerville exit.

That was it for big roads and traffic. My entire 5-hour drive to Graham, North Carolina was accented by backroads and small towns. I’m never driving without Waze again. (I promise this isn’t an advertisement for Waze, it’s just that good. Download it.)

The rest of my evacuation experience is mundane. I went to Arby’s. I went to a Greek restaurant. I drove from my parent’s house in Graham to the mountains in Boone.

It rained the entire time I was in North Carolina, but there was no flooding, no threat. If I had stayed in my neighborhood in West Ashley, I would have been without power for about 3 days. A few days is nothing compared to the wreckage in South America.

Matthew was formed by a tropical wave across the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Africa. The wave evolved into a tropical storm and by the time it reached the Caribbean, it was a full-fledged Category 5 hurricane. As it traveled north, Matthew was a Category 4 hurricane as it reached Haiti, killing more than 1,000 people in its wake.

The Category Countdown continued as the storm downgraded to a 3 when it hit the Bahamas, and finally a Category 2 by the time it reached Charleston. Areas in Florida and eastern North Carolina were pummeled. The death toll in the US is 33. Matthew’s death toll in South America is creeping to 2,000.

It bothers me to see less coverage on the South American destruction, so here’s a link to the American Red Cross. Donate to help Haiti, the Bahamas, and Cuba. Their livelihood is no less important than our own.