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.
They left for Charlotte just hours before the evacuation order in a most eclectic convoy.
Cars, trucks and buses, wheelchair vans and ambulances — 360 people and 50 pets.
The pets, Ann Harrison knew, would offer some sense of normalcy to the elderly evacuees of The Cypress of Hilton Head, a retirement and assisted-living community on the island. And Harrison, a registered nurse and administrator of the Cypress Club Clinic and the community’s home-health agency, would continue to be a familiar face to the seniors in her care.
Once in Charlotte, the community members were spread between eight or so locations, including the Heritage International Ministries Conference Center in nearby Fort Mill.
There Harrison, who’s worked at The Cypress almost 20 years, and her staff set up a mini home-health clinic in the lobby. Seniors lined up for hearing aid batteries, eye drops and bandage changes. Staffers tended to residents who suffered falls.
But when she saw a 90-year-old woman helping her fellow senior with her laundry, Harrison realized the line between community members and caretakers was blurring. And the conference center’s setup — the only TVs were in the lobby — forced Cypress residents out of their room and encouraged them to interact.
So much about the evacuation was designed to keep things as normal as possible, Harrison said, because it can be hard for the elderly to adapt when they’re out of their comfort zone.
And yet the blurring lines, the enhanced sense of community, were welcome side effects of the hurricane.
When she got back to Hilton Head 11 days later, she ran into a woman who’d moved to The Cypress just before the hurricane. As a new resident, the woman was still struggling to find friends. But since the storm, she told Harrison, she now had someone to eat with in the dining room.
Harrison came back to her Hilton Head Plantation home to find the truck in her driveway crushed by a tree, another tree on her roof, and a busted skylight.
Before the hurricane, Harrison’s parents, sister and brother had also left Hilton Head for Charlotte.
But she never saw her family.
There was too much to do.