Hurricane Matthew battered thousands of buildings and trees and caused widespread power outages and flooding throughout the Lowcountry in the early morning hours of Oct. 8. But the Category 2 storm didn’t dampen the resolve of residents determined to help their neighbors — and complete strangers — who were suffering. Read here about some of these unsung heroes.
Burton Fire District firefighter Todd Weatherford’s infant son’s first name is Donald, but the family calls the baby by his middle name, Anton.
Weatherford’s comrades at the firehouse have an entirely different name for the baby: Matthew.
That’s because Todd’s wife, Chelsea Weatherford, gave birth to the 3-pound, 11-ounce baby two months premature and just hours before Hurricane Matthew came storming into Beaufort County.
When Todd — a 32-year-old Beaufort resident and Battery Creek High School graduate — took Chelsea, 29, to the doctor’s office on Wednesday, Oct. 5, for a regular visit, the doctor noticed “extreme swelling” and sent the Weatherfords to the emergency room at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, Todd said.
Soon after Chelsea was admitted, local hospitals began to evacuate in advance of the storm.
On Thursday, Oct. 6, “they couldn’t find an ambulance to take her up to (a hospital in) Florence because they were evacuating and needed so many transports,” Todd said.
Todd, who was back on duty with the fire department, left to take Chelsea to Florence himself.
He spent the night with his wife Thursday.
“I talked to the doctors and asked, ‘Are y’all going to be able to keep (the baby) in there for three or four days, until the storm is over?’ ” Todd said. “They said, ‘Yeah, yeah, no problem.’ ”
Fully anticipating Chelsea’s cesarean section surgery to happen after the storm, Todd rushed back to the firehouse first thing on Friday morning.
“We were prepping and getting the game plan ready for the storm,” he said.
“Then I get a call at 9 (a.m. Friday), and (Chelsea) said we are going to have the baby at 2 o’clock that afternoon,” Todd said. “I told my guys, ‘I gotta go.’ So, it was up to Florence again.”
Baby Anton was born at about 3:15 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 — roughly 12 hours before the eyewall of Hurricane Matthew reached near Beaufort County, and months before Chelsea’s original due date.
Because Anton was born prematurely, he was quickly whisked away by doctors.
“We didn’t get to see him for 10 or 12 hours” after the birth, Todd said. Those were the kind of hours where each minute feels like an eternity.
“You’re kind of torn because you know the storm is (hitting Beaufort County), but you want to be here with your baby,” Todd said.
Flooding, power outages and gas shortages in Florence kept Todd from returning to Beaufort until Sunday morning.
“As soon as I came back, I went back on shift” at the fire department, he said. “It was all hands on deck.”
Running on fumes, Todd and his fellow firefighters hit the streets to start the recovery effort.
“There were trees everywhere — trees on power lines, trees in the road, trees on houses,” he said. “We were mostly working on clearing roads so we could get to people’s houses.”
Over the next several days, crews of first responders worked around the clock to clear trees and debris — all the while Chelsea texted Todd with updates and pictures of Anton.
Todd said Chelsea, who remains in Florence under doctors’ care, is anxious to get home.
“My wife can’t wait to get back and put all of the guys (at the firehouse) in line for calling (the newborn) Matthew,” he said. “She doesn’t (find the nickname) too funny. She said, ‘I’m going to straighten that out as soon as I get home.’ ”