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Mandatory Evacuation

by on October 10, 2016 5:00 AM

With the 24-hour news cycle and the constancy of communication through social media and the internet, we are able to stay on top of news that in past decades would take hours or days or even weeks to get to us. The pace of today's information pipeline can bring us into the immediacy of what is happening in the world but can also sometimes dull us to what's going on. How many times do we look at the devastation from some incident on the news and say "Oh that's awful," and then go on with our lives?

This time for our family, the news was pretty immediate. My daughters live in what eventually became the direct path of Hurricane Matthew.

With plans to come to State College from Hilton Head for Penn State homecoming weekend, my oldest daughter mentioned something last weekend about her plans being up in the air as there was talk of a hurricane. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought. How often have Hilton Head or the airport in Savannah been hit in recent years? Those of us who live in snow and blizzard country are used to the occasional disruption in air travel and the shutdowns in roads and jobs and schools after a big snow storm but in the warmth of the south? I wasn’t worried.

This time, Hurricane Matthew hit close to home.

They began hearing serious talk about the hurricane early last week. By Monday, possible evacuation plans became the focus of their text messages and we started talking about their plans to get out of town. On Tuesday, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley implemented a mandatory evacuation plan for all of the coastal counties in South Carolina. Effective at 3:00 on Wednesday, Oct. 5, people were mandated to leave the area.  By the time that all traffic lanes on Route 278 in Hilton Head were diverted outward, our daughters were well on their way away from what has become their home.

It doesn’t matter how old one’s children are or how independent those children may be, a mother’s worry is forever.

What does mandatory evacuation mean? It means just that – people are instructed to take that which is important to them and get out of Dodge. People who stay are not arrested or forcibly removed but they are told that they basically “on your own” and there may not be emergency personnel to help in the event of a catastrophe.

It meant bringing in porch furniture from their third floor apartment, moving things away from the windows, grabbing legal documents and anything else they could put in their cars. It meant packing extra dog food, water and snacks for what might be a long line of traffic getting out of the area. It meant communicating with employers about expectations for jobs. It meant frequent updates to Mom and Dad about their progress. Mandatory evacuation for our daughters meant packing up as much as they could and getting out of town.  

It meant a nine-hour drive to Uncle Rick and Aunt Debbie’s house near Atlanta -  a drive that took them just under four hours on Christmas.

Mandatory evacuation has meant Mom and Dad have been glued to the television and the internet to watch the storm make its way through Florida, Georgia and up the coast of the Carolinas.  

Hurricane Matthew has devastated Haiti with the death toll rising at more than 900 people at the time of this writing.

The response by “our” community has been incredible. Offers from friends and relatives to take the girls in. Updates from my friend from high school who is a meteorology professor and who kept us apprised of the direction of the storm. A reminder from a friend from Myrtle Beach who, having previously experienced a mandatory evacuation, reminded the girls to take a utility bill with them to show proof of residence to be able to get back on the island. (Who knew that a driver’s license with the home address in the evacuated area isn’t enough?). Friends from State College who have kids or relatives or contacts down south who offered to share resources with our daughters.

We were worried about our friends in Hilton Head too. We have friends who live there or who own property there. We have a nice friendship with the guy who owns the condo we rent when we visit the girls. The girls’ friends and neighbors who have become our friends. The business contacts I have made through internships and employment of my students. Even the community I join at the yoga studio I visit when I’m in town. Some of those folks decided to stay and wait it out. It was a harrowing few days.

In the end, a few days of inconvenience is a minor blip on the radar for our kids, especially in comparison to the devastation in Haiti. Although there is considerable property damage and disruption to the lives of many, many people in the affected areas, the Low Country is already starting to clean up and rebuild. On a positive note, with projected delays in road clearings, restoration of power and access to the island, I might actually get my girls home for a few days of Mom’s TLC. After what we called the “Hurri-cation” with the Atlanta Klebans, they may ride out the rest of the week in Centre County.

I urge others to join me in making a donation to the victims in Haiti. You can donate directly to those impacted by Hurricane Matthew on line by contacting the Red Cross.

Watching the news coverage of Hurricane Matthew was a good reminder that the events and tragedies we see and hear about are not something that can be turned off or changed to another channel for the people experiencing them. It happens to real people and real communities even if we don’t know them or have contacts with them. It’s a reminder to help our neighbors.



Patty Kleban is an instructor at Penn State, mother of three and a community volunteer. She is a Penn State Alumna. Readers of State College Magazine voted her Best Writer of 2010 and 2012. She and her family live in Patton Township. Her views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State.
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