Hurricane Matthew battered thousands of buildings and trees and caused widespread power outages and flooding throughout the Lowcountry in the early morning hours of Oct. 8. But the Category 2 storm didn’t dampen the resolve of residents determined to help their neighbors — and complete strangers — who were suffering. Read here about some of these unsung heroes.
It was a harrowing journey for Victor DelGuercio to return to Hilton Head Island after Hurricane Matthew, but he had to know.
A Hilton Head resident for 30 years, DelGuercio, who lives in North Forest Beach, couldn’t stand the thought of being away from the island he loved during a crisis.
That’s why the Marriott timeshares salesman and two friends — Thomas Layer and Keith Bach — set out on a sort of odyssey from Augusta, Ga., to the island on Oct. 8.
Not knowing what they would find when they got there, the three packed chainsaws and backpacks full of water, food and other essentials.
He had to drive his new Toyota Tundra off-road, through wooded areas, and through other side routes to avoid the multiple police barricades set up to Hilton Head.
Once the three had arrived in Bluffton, they picked up a boat that Bach had left in the parking lot of Old South Golf Links.
Because Layer was a member at Moss Creek, the three opted to set off from there and work their way — “very gingerly” — to Hilton Head, avoiding the various sunken boats in their path, DelGuercio said.
The three arrived at Windmill Harbour, where Bach lived, and were taken aback by the utter stillness of the island.
“The amount of trees down and the amount of houses with trees on them — all of a sudden it was real for us,” DelGuercio said. “We were kind of at a loss for words.”
Once there, DelGuercio put out a call on Facebook, offering to check on anyone’s homes or properties if they asked.
“I was doing it for selfish reasons — I had to keep myself busy,” DelGuercio said. “What was I going to do on Hilton Head Island? It was utter destruction.”
No more than an hour after arriving, he was checking on the Main Street Cafe, and soon he had about 30 requests.
“It was like being on a different planet,” he said. “It was not Hilton Head any longer. It was a disaster zone.”
The three divvied up the requests — DelGuercio offered to check on properties in Long Cove Club, North Forest Beach and Ashton Cove; Bach, properties in Hilton Head Plantation; Layer, properties in Palmetto Hall Plantation.
It was not easy work; oftentimes, the three had to chainsaw their way into neighborhoods completely blocked by fallen trees. They rarely ate — maybe an apple or so around lunchtime — and worked 12-hour days.
After the initial task of checking on people’s yards, DelGuercio took to offering free help with chainsawing trees in yards and clearing properties.
He refused a woman who offered to pay him.
“I just told her to help the next person, and she was looking at me like I had two heads,” he said. “I will tell you that the gratitude people expressed was just heartwarming.”