Hurricane Florence like others Beaufort Co. has seen: Hard to predict, barrels of stress

5 things to know when evacuating Hilton Head

A mandatory evacuation can be ordered when a hurricane takes aim at the South Carolina coast. Here's what you need to know.
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A mandatory evacuation can be ordered when a hurricane takes aim at the South Carolina coast. Here's what you need to know.

This too shall pass.

That much we know as the current storm track and forecast for Hurricane Florence continues to change.

And, local history shows us, “this too shall pass” is all we know for certain. That, and stress.

In September 1979, it was Hurricane David that was to blast us off the planet.

We waited in the dark, tuned into our high-tech gadget — a battery-powered NOAA radio with the voice of doom repeating coordinates, paths and warnings.

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It came toward us, and then fizzled. Or died. Or magically disappeared.

Actually, it left a lot of people around Savannah without power for what seemed like a long time.

But the prediction didn’t come true.

And we learned that this is the way it will be with hurricanes.

In 1989, Hurricane Hugo was headed right at us. We evacuated. We put a newspaper together. We went to a motel room to “hunker down” with traveling tree-cutting crews.

And that evening, the track ticked slightly north and while we were back home the next day picking up twigs in the yard, we began to see pictures of unthinkable damage through Charleston, McClellanville, Garden City Beach and well inland.

The prediction of death and horror came true, but Beaufort County happened to be spared.

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Maybe fear from knowing what Hurricane Hugo did influenced another evacuation in 1996.

It was in July. Hurricane Bertha had been brewing in the Caribbean for a week before it appeared Beaufort County could be hit by 100-plus mph winds and a large storm surge.

The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for the area. At 11 a.m., Beaufort County officials issued a voluntary evacuation notice, urging people to leave. At 2:30 p.m., following a meeting with county and municipal leaders, a mandatory evacuation order was issued.

The forecast said the hurricane could make landfall the next day.

The forecast should have called for gridlock, because that’s what happened.

An estimated 80,000 to 100,000 people were on Hilton Head. A man living in the Baynard Cove area of Sea Pines said it took him two hours to drive from home to the main gate. Others said it took four to five hours to move from Sea Pines Circle to the bridge. A Packet reporter covered the gridlock scene on roller skates.

Hurricane Bertha blew by us at sea around 10 p.m. that night. At 4:30 a.m. the next day, everyone was told to come home.

Local leaders made the call, not the governor. They steadfastly defended the decision to be safe rather than sorry. But the people came to know it as the “premature evacuation.”

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In 1999, Hurricane Floyd evacuation turned into statewide gridlock, though the wrath of the storm was felt in North Carolina.

And in the past two years, we’ve seen great progress in evacuations for Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma.

So when the forecast path of Hurricane Florence changed so dramatically overnight Tuesday, it wasn’t a surprise.

Hurricanes can and will stop, meander, even go into the Gulf of Mexico and then out into the Atlantic Ocean.

We know that.

And we know this has always been stressful for residents, costly to businesses and a hard call for emergency planners.

It may not be pretty, but this too shall pass.

David Lauderdale: 843-706-8115, @ThatsLauderdale
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