Hurricane Matthew (2016)

We arrived on Hilton Head Island, SC on November 5, 2016.  Prior to our arrival we had made enquiries about the effects of Hurricane Matthew which struck in early October, 2016. Our estate agent confirmed that it was safe to come to the Island and that our accommodation was in good order.  While those observations were true, it was apparent upon our arrival that the Island was in the throes of recovery from the storm.  We were informed that a tornado had passed through Sea Pines (which is the area in which we reside) and we later discovered what was evidently the path of destruction wrought by the tornado, a corridor of downed trees. Apart from that however the only evidence of the hurricane was the slash collected at the sides of roads and the on-going procedures to reconstruct the face of the beach in several places.

Hurricane Matthew was an extremely destructive and long-lived tropical cyclone which became the first Category 5 Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Felix in 2007. The thirteenth named storm, fifth hurricane and second major hurricane of the active 2016 Atlantic hurricane season, Matthew wrought widespread destruction and catastrophic loss of life during its journey across the Western Atlantic, including parts of Haiti, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Lucayan Archipelago, the southeastern United States, and the Canadian Maritimes. Over 1,600 estimated deaths have been attributed to the storm, including 546 to 1,600 in Haiti, 1 in Colombia, 4 in the Dominican Republic, 4 in Cuba, 1 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and 49 in the United States, making it the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Stan in 2005, which killed more than 1,600 in Central America and Mexico. With the storm causing damages estimated in excess of $15 billion (USD), it was also the costliest Atlantic hurricane since Hurricane Sandy in 2012, as well as the ninth costliest Atlantic hurricane in history.

On October 3, the governors of Florida and North Carolina declared a state of emergency. The next day, South Carolina governor Nikki Haley recommended an evacuation for those residents living within one hundred miles of the coast. Interstate 26 in South Carolina eastbound between the coast and Columbia was reversed on Wednesday to facilitate movement away from the Lowcountry and Charleston areas. Evacuations of Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina began this day as well. By October 4, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory had ordered that evacuation be mandatory. A state of emergency was also declared for 13 counties in eastern Georgia.

Even the moderate evidence of the storm was distressing.  Hilton Head Island is known for its pristine appearance and anything which taints that perfection is intolerable. Although we gradually adjusted to the sight of downed trees, roadside debris and the presence of dump trucks, it was an offensive sight. Day by day there was incremental almost imperceptible improvement. Then, like the sudden evaporation of a head cold, the Island seemed to regain its erstwhile integrity.  For the first time today, as I bicycled along the inland paths to Harbour Town, I sensed that the contamination was gone. Boundaries had been restored; clinical lawns reappeared without the adulteration of stumps; obnoxious roadside collections were gone.  Certainly the canopy of Sea Pines had been altered but only to the extent of being less opaque and affording more open spaces and sunlight. The most reviving discovery was the reappearance of yachts in the Harbour Town basin.

I confess to some embarrassment about this proclivity for manicured lawns and picture-book marinas. I won’t even try to excuse it.  Undoubtedly it is elemental to the attraction of the Island that it cultivates such delightful though somewhat inauthentic views. In different circumstances I can imagine that this Hollywood gloss would be disturbing for being so utterly unrealistic at times. But if one likes Hilton Head Island it is not because of its Bohemian flavour.

Already the bougainvillea and other flowers have begun to appear, softening the daily experience. It doesn’t take long to reawaken the Island from its fleeting obdurate winter.

Below is a bronze statue I saw in Harbour Town for the first time today.  It is a mastery of execution and artistic rendition. When I initially caught sight of it I thought it was a real person.

The consummation of the recovery is the progressively warming climate. No one can argue with the melting effect of sunshine and heat. If there is any legitimacy to the reconstitution of the Island it is its collective response to the weather. Even Nature knows when to turn a page.