Hurricane Matthew raked Beaufort County with the power to twist oak trees like shoelaces, destroy marinas and gobble vast chunks of shoreline.
Parts of the islands look like a tornado ripped through. We take photographs of giant pines and oaks fallen onto rooftops, sometimes four or more on a single home, only to realize a camera cannot capture its full scope.
For decades, we have feared this day. But we spent a lot of those years thinking about it and preparing for it. Our study and experience tells us this was not the big one, not the land-leveler of Hurricanes Hugo or Andrew. The largest dividend of our collective preparation is that no lives were lost here to Hurricane Matthew.
As the reality begins to seep in, we need to:
Be patient. That often seems as likely as getting a hurricane to calm down. But in many ways, the storm is just beginning. We have a long way to go, yet we tend to want everything finished yesterday. We must be patient in the cleanup, especially with chainsaws in hand. And remember that cleanups can take years.
Be realistic. It is not realistic to think more than 50,000 customers can have electricity restored immediately. Or that a barrier island can be immediately open to residents after such a storm. But we seem to expect it. We think Uncle Sam can or will snap a finger and fix everything today. Take a deep breath, and understand that this is not make-believe. Restoration takes time.
Be appreciative. Stop to think how much has been done so quickly — roads cleared, water running, stores open, power restored, trees removed, yards cleaned. Appreciate all the planning and personal sacrifice it took to achieve this in mere hours. It required a complex web involving all levels of government, as well as utilities, first-responders, business owners and property owners’ associations. If you look at Hilton Head Plantation, as one example, and fathom the high number of trees that were blocking roads last Sunday morning and realize that residents returned on Tuesday afternoon, it’s mind-blowing. We must appreciate the staggering efforts by so many across Beaufort County to get our impatient selves this close to normal this quickly.
Be helpful. One silver lining is that the storm has pulled people out of their homes to meet each other, support each other and help each other. Individuals, new groups, old groups and countless institutions are now working for something greater than themselves. The worst thing we could do is overlook the widows, sick and elderly. Everyone must help someone else in some way.
Be attentive. We have plenty of time to hash and rehash what went right and what went wrong. Now is the time to pay attention to find those lessons and not be defensive, so that next time we can be even better. State, county and municipal governments can learn from Hurricane Matthew, and so can utilities, schools, churches, businesses and individual households. We each need to be attentive to what we can do better.
Be thankful. Even as we are only beginning to take stock of all the expenses, losses and hardships — we also should be thankful. We’re still here. We’re still strong. And we have an opportunity to show the world our mettle, our class, and our style.