When Patty Wilkens go up on Sunday morning, she wanted what most people want every Sunday morning — a warm cup of coffee.
And she wasn’t deterred by the near-island wide power outage that had followed the brutal hit of Category 2 Hurricane Matthew early Saturday.
So when the Hilton Head Island woman spotted an electric sign still glowing outside the back gate of Hilton Head Plantation — “Mandatory Evacuation in Effect,” it silently shouted at all the people who’d ignored it — Wilkens decided to put the free power to good use.
She plugged in her coffee pot, brewed a cup and sipped.
“Courtesy of Hilton Head Plantation!” she said the next morning. “Some people will do anything for coffee.”
On Monday, Wilkens was helping her friends clear roads of trees and debris in Squiresgate off Squire Pope Road. The neigbhorhood fared decently well compared to the worst hit spots — like Sea Pines and Hilton Head, Port Royal and Wexford plantations — but was still impassible after a point.
One of the guys in her crew, Billy Hughes, manned the chainsaw while others used ropes to pull the cut pieces of limb away.
At one point, one of the trees over the road gave a giant lurch, sending Hughes running out of the way in case it fell to the ground. He was fine — the tree held steady.
Wilkens’ own neighborhood, Tabby Walk, suffered a lot of damage, she said. Even her mailbox, a round pagoda-shaped structure by the pool, was somehow flattened.
“My first thought was, ‘Oh sh--, I didn’t get the mail!,” Wilkens said, thinking of the mug she’d just ordered online. It had been $20, and now it was probably in 20 pieces.
But standing in the tree-littered Squire Pope Road neighborhood, the smushed mailbox made her laugh. It could be Hurricane Matthew’s least important casualty, right after the individual mailboxes that went flying off so many posts.
Wilkens said she has no regrets about ignoring Gov. Nikki Haley’s evacuation orders. Staying meant that on Monday, she was here while her friends and neighbors were scrambling for news of their homes; she was here while they were sitting in traffic waiting to re-enter Beaufort County. She was here while they were being turned away at the island’s bridge checkpoint.
She was using the time to volunteer as much as she can. Since Saturday, her wood-paneled station wagon has become a “second responder” vehicle, bringing water, aid and plenty of home snapshots to people in need.
“Twenty-six years and three hurricanes, I never leave.”