Surviving a Hurricane on the River

Irma, the storm that just kept going and going… Watching a hurricane churn in the Atlantic is something southerners do with great interest and apprehension. It is simply a way of life in South Carolina. Some years are pretty quiet and no nagging fear is stirred, others.. not so much. With Irma, from the beginning reports, things felt different for most of us I believe. The reports of this Cat 5 storm out there somewhere far away felt like an omen. You just knew it was coming to the front door, from early on. It reminded me of Hugo, so long ago. There are storms that you see out there, thousands of miles away.. and you know you will be meeting them face to face at some point in the near future. Yes, Hugo was like that, and so was Irma. Very rarely do we get that emotion from a storm living this far inland, but it happens. Irma was coming, we knew it and we had to think about that with a new reality, we now live in the river on a boat.

Living on a boat certainly changed the normal apprehension. With these “I know its coming” storms, you watch the weather reports and the apprehension that is generally weak, seems to grow daily until it becomes more than that. We casually mention it to each other in passing at work and out in the community. As we make eye contact, we know it is more than a casual topic that we are purposely downplaying, or it wouldn’t come up at all. Of course as the storm approaches, your feelings turn to ever so slight dread. Eventually, the interest in the storm outweighs other thoughts in your head. Any storm that is predicted to hit anywhere from Alabama to North Carolina is a storm that brings out this emotion in South Carolinians. We are right in the middle of everything southern.. so no matter what, we will meet the storm in some fashion. Mild panic about what needs to be done creeps in until the of fear of the unknown runs through your mind most of the day. Of course with most huge hurricanes that are bearing down on us, that slow building of emotion eventually leads to a more certain thing, it is best to enjoy every day and moment. Hurricanes do that too you. They give you time to think about what is really important, before the probable impact. Hurricanes are gracious like that.

So overdrive we go! What could be blown away up top is put away or pinned down. Meanwhile, we get texts and calls from family and friends reminding us to get off the boat and get somewhere safe. We definitely planned to do that. As Irma approaches we see her downgraded from a 5, to a 4 and then a 3 in South Florida. Still, we know.. with this storm, don’t let your guard down. We worked together all day battening down things on the boat. Every broken tie rap on the canopy was replaced. We moved anything that could blow off the boat either up top or fastened bungee cords around all outdoor things. Umbrellas and chairs were the most vulnerable objects. As for us, we readied cat carriers, filled bottles of water, and bought supplies for a long duration power outage. Most important for us was to stock up on gas for the generator, since that we knew could make life bearable. And yes, we made arrangements to stay with friends in a “real” house. Not sure how safe that idea is either. Once we had everything in place, we went back to the routine. Work, home, gardening, and the normal.

As our family and friends in central Florida weathered the storm it was downgraded to a 1. Calls or texts to everyone we love in Florida confirmed everyone made it through safe, so then we celebrated the downgraded condition of Irma. No need to abandon ship! Well the storm hit on a Monday morning here. The entire community and state for that matter shut down. As usual, my employer did not. So off to work I go telling all the family bye and hang on tight. As I drove through the swamp out to the main road I thought pretty loudly to my self.. “I should not be out here!”. Winds were blowing the trees so far back and forth that it was frightening. The sky was full of dark and light bands of mean looking clouds and leaves and small branches were flying around the vehicle. Dang, I hate to have to be at work.

So I drive on in. As the morning wears on, around 10, the stronger winds hit the building. The whistling of the building becomes pretty significant. Crews are out clearing down trees from roadways and we are supposed to get the worst part of the storm in the afternoon. My phone keeps beeping with texts. “You coming home..”. “You need to come home..”. Meanwhile, at work, there is no talk of knocking off early. Finally, just as I was going up for lunch, the final txt.. “Come home now!”. So, I heeded my husbands txts, told the boss I was leaving and would take vacation for the rest of the day.

Driving home was horrible. Again, that crazy feeling that you should not be on the road is raging. Wind is blowing so hard and steady. Gusts and steady wind going on for this long is ridiculous. I go through downtown Augusta thinking it would be safer to be around larger structures. That worked out to be the case too. As I head back over to the swamp, and again down that road, I see trees are down in the swamp, the road is littered with leaves and limbs so that the pavement is obscured completely. Three miles of it. Finally, I reach home and think.. we must leave this place and get to high ground. I jump on the cart to drive to the boat and almost run down the gang plank.

Enter the boat, enter peace and calm. How about that! The boat is low and the winds are raging across overhead missing the boat and the river entirely. Leaves are just drifting by on calm waters. Outside is a tumultuous nightmare of wind, rain and raging storm, inside is a barely-rocking utopia of family, my sweet kitties sleeping peacefully on their perches.. and the husband a bit rattled but none the less ok. So we decide to stay.

I videoed the storm from the boat and it was incredible. The sounds of the winds and raging trees was dramatic. We could stand on deck and feel the wind whipping around us but it was just the mild remnants of wind from the lower parts of the forest. At one point I heard loud crashing and banging up top. Lulled by the “no big deal” on the boat, I decided to go check on the barn and storage building. I drive up on the golf cart and look around and see one tree down in the secret garden but nothing is damaged. I get off and walk around looking. About that time, the wind picks up again and the sky’s are full of debris and leaves. The trees are bending over double almost. Sheer panic sets in, “what the hell am I doing out here!” I say out loud. I jump back on the cart and head for the boat. Before I could reach the path the winds bend trees back and forth over the path and I am scared to drive there. I throw the cart in reverse and head back to the building, but again trees are bent over double all around the metal building and the wind is howling. I am stuck! Stuck right in the middle of Irma’s rage. She has been destroying people, places and things for thousands of miles and here I sit in a golf cart with nothing to protect me at all. Horrified at my stupidity, I sit there ducking as if that would even make a difference. That is the most fearful I have ever been in my life.. that moment with Irma. I felt that any second my life could have ended by any of these trees snapping and swaying around me. True terror as sit in a golf cart with a plastic roof knowing that it could be my last breath and at that very moment, my husband was literally steps away from where I was, oblivious to my terror.

Graciously, the winds subsided enough (only momentarily) and I grabbed the opportunity and was able to make a mad dash down the path and jumped out of the cart and ran back to the boat to safety. Again.

When it was all said and done, trees were down all over town. Three of which took out the power to the boat along with the long road into the community we live. We lost power around 3:30 p.m. We used the generator (cranked beautifully) during the evening and morning. Power came back to life around 4 p.m. Tuesday. But on the boat the entire time, life was as good as it could be. We didn’t store enough water for more than a day, so lessen learned there. The worst was over, the cleanup was on. Irma was gone. We were ok. I learned to never ever go out in the middle of a storm to check on things.. no matter how safe you believe you are, you might not make it back. Several South Carolinians died during the storm. Irma was relentless to the end. But this one is going into the books people. If ever asked “what is the dumbest thing you have ever done?”, I have an answer.

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