Fleeing Floridian: The second worst thing you can do in Hurricane Matthew

We have our children; we have our pets. Everything else can be replaced.

The first time my wife and I evacuated for a hurricane, it was Floyd in 1999. Forty-eight hours out, it looked like we would take a direct hit in Ormond Beach, where we had just bought a cute old house less than a mile off the beach. Plywood was hard to find, so I drove 40 miles away to a Home Depot that still had some, then came back to a hardware store closer to home to buy screws and a power saw.

Neighbors help each other in situations like this, and a guy I just met at the hardware store offered to help me board up our house if I would help him. He lived alone and didn’t think he could do it himself. There’s a strange calm in the weather before a storm, and Jim and I sipped Cokes, sawed plywood, and got the windows covered. There was no talk of sitting this one out. I had a pregnant wife and a toddler, so we weren’t taking chances. As we finished with Jim’s house, we shook hands and promised to help each other with the cleanup when we got back.

With Floyd we were lucky. Floyd turned away. Matthew may do the same, but it may not.

The worst thing that can happen in a hurricane is you can stay to wait it out and die when it hits. The second worst thing that can happen is you can stay to wait it out and it turns like Floyd did, making you feel justified or smarter than the National Weather Service, and therefore less likely to evacuate in the future. Your presence in the storm and your “cleverness” when all around you “panicked” may lead others to stay.

Matthew may turn, but it has already killed. Matthew may come to my house, and I don’t want to be there if it does.

Our new house has a film on the windows to strengthen the glass so it will withstand hurricane-force winds, but all around me are still neighbors hauling plywood or closing hurricane shutters. One neighbor asks if I can climb her ladder to close the shutters on her upper windows. She takes care of her elderly mother, and neither of them is much of a ladder person.

“Are you going to leave?” she asks.

“As soon as the kids get home,” I tell her.

Our oldest was only a year old when we returned after Floyd to find the one window we didn’t cover, a small one in the laundry room, blown out, and Floyd hadn’t even come ashore in Florida. Today I pick him up from his dorm at the University of North Florida, take back roads to where we live on Amelia Island, and set him about bringing in lawn furniture and coaxing the cats into carriers to take to my parents’ house 25 miles further inland.

Our middle child lived through Floyd in utero. Today he’s a high school senior, worried only about his car being pulled safely into the garage, his drum kit packed in a closet, and his girlfriend riding out the storm with her family on the mainland. They will Facetime and Snapchat for the next two days, or as long as she still has power.

The youngest has never left home without certain knowledge that it would be just as she left it when she returned. A few years ago we sat through a tropical storm as it passed over the house with gusts at around 70 mph.

“If that was just a tropical storm,” she tells me, “I don’t want to be here for a hurricane.”


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