Weather News

Hurricane Dorian: Still on Hilton Head playing it by ear during mandatory evacuation

Hurricane Dorian is going to do whatever Hurricane Dorian is going to do, so we’ll stand by on the Skull Creek dock and play it by ear.

Such was the Lowcountry wisdom of commercial shrimper Skip Toomer on Tuesday during Hilton Head Island’s mandatory hurricane evacuation.

Toomer is a fourth-generation Hilton Head Island waterman, and he and a mate were caring for the family’s fleet on a hot, blue-sky day.

Skip Toomer and his brother, Jeff Toomer, operate three massive shrimp trawlers with steel hulls painted blue. On Tuesday the boats were roped to the dock at Hudson’s Seafood House on the Docks restaurant, while the hurricane that is all anyone could think about was stalled in the Bahamas.

Skip said that, if need be, the Toomers will ease their life’s investments into a bend in Bluffton’s May River, where a 20-foot bluff will protect them from Dorian’s wind.

He said they’ve built larger anchors for the job, and they’ll double-anchor their two 70-foot trawlers, the Catina Renea and the Reilly Morgan, and the 82-foot Jeffrey Logan.

“People thought we were crazy when we did that for Hurricane Matthew” in 2016, Toomer said. “We could hear the trees cracking on the hill. But the boats didn’t move. We went back to sleep.”

After days of Category 5 fear-mongering, it was comforting to hear these measured tones from the family that has survived the finicky but overpowering ways of our waters since 1913.

Hilton Head

That’s when Skip’s great-grandfather Simpson VanderHorst “Cap” Toomer came over from Thunderbolt, Georgia, and started making a living on oysters, shrimp, clams and crabs. Today, Skip’s uncle Larry Toomer runs the Bluffton Oyster Co.

The Toomers and the Hudsons — Tonya and Barbara Hudson run Benny Hudson Seafood on Squire Pope Road — were for years virtually the only white people living on what was a quiet, Gullah island with no McMansions, no insurance and no FEMA.

And as another day of angst dawned on Tuesday, one of the current generation of Hudsons posted a picture of a big pot of boiled peanuts on her stove in Folly Field.

Gay Propst wrote: “Thankful Dorian’s cone seems to be missing us at this point so we’re boiling peanuts at 7am! Praying God’s hand moves this storm further east but also lifting those up in the Bahamas.”

Hurricane scenes

At that time of day, a ride around Hilton Head was like a trip in a time machine. Suddenly, it was 1977. On U.S. 278, only one or two cars were on the road for as far as the eye could see.

But by mid-day, with the thermometer hovering around 90, the un-evacuated world heated up. Plenty of cars were everywhere, and they had a lot of places to go: Walmart, Dollar General, Harris Teeter, Kroger, Publix, Starvin’ Marvin’s, Station One, Cookout, Roller’s liquor store, Signe’s, ACE Hardware, New York City Pizza, Bullie’s BBQ, and the old reliable — David Martin’s Piggly Wiggly at Coligny Plaza, where all fresh seafood was on sale for $9.99 a pound.

Men strapped golf bags over their shoulders and walked the Dolphin Head course, just a hole away from where Hurricane Matthew leveled homes and trees at Whooping Crane Way and Seabrook Drive.

People were biking, walking, jogging and playing tennis at a racquet club that was closed.

The small “Sea Owl” shrimp boat was being pulled to safety behind a pickup truck.

Ambulances hauled people off the island ahead of Hilton Head Hospital’s scheduled 3 p.m. closing.

People pulled cash from a Wells Fargo ATM machine.

And the Facebook Live feed from the sheriff’s daily hurricane update informed us that southbound Amtrak trains would stop rolling Tuesday night. You’d have to be from the South to feel the hurt in the three simple words, “No southbound train.”

Even when doom lurks somewhere over the horizon, I found hope in playing it by ear.

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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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