Weather News

Hilton Head Island not a ghost town — yet — as Hurricane Dorian roars toward SC

I’m staying on a South Carolina barrier island with a Category 2 hurricane aimed right at me.

Don’t tell Mama.

She’s already called twice.

I tell her that I’m working, and that’s true. But they didn’t force me to do something this stupid. This one’s on me.

I always did want to die with the sound of a freight train whistling through my ears ... or standing in line to buy AA batteries. Or was it supposed to be AAA?

On Wednesday, as Hurricane Dorian ticked toward Hilton Head Island, “they” said it will take a sudden turn to the right and thereby not come straight into my living room.

Perhaps you too noticed that “they” have been dead on all week in predicting Dorian — the one “they” were cocksure was headed into Orlando.

Well, let me admit that I am not cocksure about my decision to stay on the island. Not by any stretch of my frayed imagination.

In fact, I’m very much schizophrenic about it. The truth is, I need therapy much more than I need the hurricane snacks, which are all gone anyway.

The crazy part of this is that I’m looking around my hometown — not to mention my actual home — and thinking, “Tomorrow, this could be all gone.”

It seriously does prey on your last nerve.

Hurricane Dorian gave people on Hilton Head Island SC plenty to think about as it approached the state on Wednesday morning, Sept. 4, 2019. David Lauderdale

But my sketchy planning can’t be much worse than the governor’s. Wouldn’t you think that the great, comforting, state planning team could figure out by the time the 15th hurricane of the past three years rolls around that they need a larger room for their news conferences?

Gov. Henry McMaster crams what appears to be a dozen people squirming around in a phone booth to assure us that they have a great plan in place.

And then on Wednesday, Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner had to go and bring the county coroner to the microphone during our county’s official daily lecture to GET OUT! At least Coroner Ed Allen resisted demonstrating how body bags work.

Please don’t tell Mama any of this.

Part of my job on Wednesday was to do a Facebook Live chat on The Island Packet’s Facebook page. My beautiful bride drove as I filmed all the stores that were by then boarded up along U.S. 278.

But we did see people at the Piggly Wiggly at Coligny Plaza stocking up at the last minute on hurricane survival essentials — like a jar of dill pickles or a bag of Tostitos.

And, like me, they didn’t know if their last words would be “hunker down” or, “Pass the pickles, please.” But wouldn’t their Mamas be proud?

sheriff tanner presser.JPG
Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner, with county Coroner Ed Allen to the right of him in this photo, announced a curfew for Beaufort County ahead of Hurricane Dorian during his daily briefing Wednesday morning, Sept. 4, 2019. Facebook

Since misery loves company, we may end up needing a group grave. Hilton Head Island, despite all the fair warnings, was by no means a ghost town on Wednesday.

Still, a great throng of folks headed for the exit after Sheriff Tanner hammered home the point Wednesday that it was still not too late to leave.

And as I chased after them for official news-gathering purposes, there in the manicured median of U.S. 278, near the foot of the bridge leading to freedom and safety, stood a cheap plywood sign.

You may remember the spray-painted plywood sign in about the same place that greeted islanders returning after Hurricane Matthew, which slapped us down to size in 2016.

That sign said: “Welcome Home.” It had hearts and little waves on it. It warmed hearts. And the sign that turned out to be the handiwork of island surf king Byron Sewell made stressed-out folks in need of psychiatrists and chainsaws know that they had a home, and that their home had a heart.

On Wednesday, a different cheap plywood sign was there, near the entrance to Windmill Harbour.

And this time it faced the other direction. It was speaking to the people with the good sense to run for higher ground.

So, if Dorian turns out to be the Big One, and Ed Allen has to come get what’s left of me, tell Mama that my last words were not about a freight train.

Tell her they were the words spray-painted on the plywood sign at the foot of the Hilton Head bridge:

“Be Safe. Be Kind. HHI Strong.”

Follow more of our reporting on Hurricane Dorian

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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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