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What SC Lowcountry needs to know to survive Hurricane Dorian | Opinion

Hurricane Dorian is coming.

And guessing and second-guessing have zoomed to the Category 5 level for Lowcountry South Carolina residents who have been watching Dorian’s every move for more than a week.

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation beginning at noon Monday, for a storm predicted to be here Wednesday or Thursday.

He should know that, by now, we’re all experts. People who don’t know heat from humidity are stopping others in the grocery store to expound upon high pressure systems, weak flow patterns, and European models.

But in truth, our brains have turned into spaghetti. It’s just too much to think about.

Today, I cannot even remember the names of all the hurricanes that have uprooted our lives in the Lowcountry since Hurricane David was my first rodeo in 1979.

Still, as Hurricane Dorian threatens, this much we know about survival:

Leave.

The “hunker down” crowd discovered that a hurricane is not a party when Hurricane Matthew blew by Beaufort County in 2016.

Afterward, I interviewed a Hilton Head Island woman whose home and car was hit by a fallen pecan tree.

“This is my home, and I stayed through the storm,” she said softly. “I sat up all night. And when that storm hit, about maybe 4:15, I heard a boom and I knew that my house was hit. I didn’t know my cars and stuff was down ...”

Her eyes looked a little watery as she stood by a pile of pecan branches, chainsawed off her house by volunteers from an island church.

As she continued to talk, she calmly shook her head in the hot sun.

“I’m going to tell everyone, next time they say leave — leave. Because that was the worst three to four hours of my life.”

Hurricanes play for keeps.

Hurricane Matthew was NOT the big one. It was a Category 2 storm when it raced by Beaufort County some 20 miles offshore in October 2016.

But still:

It dumped 14 inches of rain on us. It moved 700,000 cubic yards of Hilton Head’s beach sand and destroyed around 33 acres of dunes. It destroyed the marina on Dataw Island and wrecked a lot of the Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head.

It caused the loss of at least 120,000 trees on Hilton Head. Three million cubic yards of chipped debris was hauled off of Hilton Head at a cost of about $44 million. That job took the better part of a year.

About one in five buildings on Hilton Head had some damage. About 40 homes had damage that equaled 75 percent or more of the value of the property.

And as of Monday morning, Hurricane Dorian was projected to be a stronger Category 3 storm when it comes this way.

Get out your checkbook.

Hurricanes are terribly expensive. You’ll need $8,000 to $10,000 on hand to get going again if your house or lot is hit by downed trees or flooding.

It turns into a Wild West economy with unknown tree companies roaming the streets asking for massive sums of cash to help you out of your dilemma.

Also, it’s expensive to evacuate. And lots of people don’t get paid when everything shuts down for a hurricane.

Charity is needed more than ever, locally and nationally, and we thankfully saw plenty of that after Hurricane Matthew.

If you get hit, dealing with insurance becomes a full-time job. Hilton Head Realtor Chip Collins, who dealt with it after Matthew, put personal recommendations on Facebook Sunday. This portion gives a clue of what you’re up against:

“Document your calls, emails, texts, and meetings on a simple timeline list, including notes of what was discussed, etc. Keeping a record is important because this kind of chaotic situation can be confusing.

“Get your own estimates where/when possible. The national-data estimating tools adjusters use might not take into consideration what local contracting and material costs are. You are entitled to a fair claim, and usually the more info on the table the better.”

Re-entry is even harder.

It’s much easier to escape the storm than it is to come home.

Returning can’t possibly happen soon enough for people who by then have been stressed out for almost two weeks.

For them, we make this plea:

Our government MUST have its act together this time, unlike the experience of many after Hurricane Matthew.

Governor, DO NOT declare your evacuation order rescinded, and say it’s time to go home, only to have the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office stopping all traffic at the county line.

Hurry up and wait.

Americans aren’t good with patience, but a hurricane demands it.

You’ll wait to know what the hurricane is going to do, wait to know what happened to your house, wait to be cleared to come home, wait to get damage repaired, wait to get insurance settlements, wait to be back to normal.

We’ve learned that hurricane threats and hurricane strikes are both terribly hard. But we also have learned that this too shall pass.

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Senior editor David Lauderdale has been a Lowcountry journalist for more than 40 years. He oversees the editorial page, writes opinion, and tells the stories of our community. His columns have twice won McClatchy’s President’s Award. He grew up in Atlanta, but Hilton Head Island is home.
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