It was the first weekend in October, and we started to get alerts that Hurricane Matthew might reach South Carolina.

Anyone living in Charleston could tell you that it wasn’t a great time or place for a hurricane. October is late for flood season. The area around Charleston is known as the low country. Most of the area lies at or just above sea level, so a hurricane could cause a lot of damage. To top it all, there is only one large highway heading west, away from Charleston and the coast, so it’s hard to leave town.

The Governor called for voluntary evacuations by Tuesday. The highway was immediately packed. By Wednesday, evacuations were mandatory. The highway headed east was closed, and all six lanes headed west.

It was quite a sight as over 250,000 people were evacuated from coastal towns and cities. Because of the uncertain trajectory of hurricanes, my mandatory evacuation did not come until Friday afternoon. My neighbors decided to stay since we were on the reported western edge of impact. I opted to stay too. I guess we reasoned that given such a late evacuation warning there was nowhere to go.

hurricaine-matthew-view From my Scout leader dad, I was trained like a Boy Scout. I  morphed into “Be Prepared” mode. By Thursday, I was equipped with the things I deemed necessary.

First, I filled my car with gas. By that time, most gas stations had no more gas. Most banks were closed, but I called friends reminding them to get cash as all ATM’s would be useless when the power went off. I had buckets of water, my bathtub filled (just a note of interest, if your water pumping station goes down you need water for washing, flushing, and general non-drinking uses), batteries of every size and shape, flashlights, candles, lighters, two cases of bottled water, soups, crackers, peanut butter, bread, extra butane for my camp stove, cat food, and what I feel is most important:  toilet paper, paper towels and soap.

For a solid week, we had had nothing but storm reports and predictions on TV. On Friday, I moved the car into the garage, along with anything which could go airborne.

Friday was a totally spooky day. The sun was out, and there was not a leaf stirring. I live with 100 foot trees on two sides of my house. I believed the wind and rain was coming north from Florida, through Georgia towards my home, 18 miles from the coast. It seemed to move so slowly. We were told of a Friday night-Saturday morning arrival. And, did it ever arrive!

I decided it would be safest to sleep in the living room, so a tree wouldn’t fall on a vulnerable part of the house. The power and TV was still on. There was still no storm. I finally went to bed Friday night, turned on the TV and went to sleep. Around midnight, I woke up to what sounded like a hundred freight trains. The combination of very high wind, torrential rain, falling trees, flying branches and sub-stations exploding was frightening, but I could do nothing.

So, I turned up the volume on the TV and prayed. It lasted maybe eight hours.

Saturday morning was cool and sunny. I set out to check on my neighbors. They were out and about, and the men had already cleared the trees blocking our street. Many trees had fallen, which meant the power was turned off until the streets were cleared, so there was no chance of electrocution. Never touch a live electrical wire!

By 10:00 A.M. with no power, you go into survival mode. Fortunately, we still had water. My biggest mistake was that I thought my water heater was gas. By the fourth day, I ran out of hot water. I may have been taught Scouting lessons, but I still was never a Boy Scout–cold showers are no fun.

We were without power for almost a week. That was when I was truly thankful for my little one burner butane stove. It did a remarkable job of heating water, soup, stew, and other edibles.

snakeNow, for the highlight of everyone’s week:

I have already said that the Saturday after the storm was breezy and cool. I opened the door to my screened in porch to air the house. The cat came in off the porch. I thought that was unusual.

I went to close the door to the porch when I saw something that looked strange. It took me two seconds to realize that a big snake was on the inside against the screen.

I slammed the door and ran down the street to a neighbor’s house. I rushed back with my friend’s husband. The snake struck at him over and over. He finally got it in a flower pot,  and we took it back to his house. His wife had called “snake rescue” and they came shortly to relocate it. I am terrified of snakes,squirrel but this was not a poisonous one. We have searched and searched for how the snake got on the porch. I do not have a clue! I was glad there is a snake rescue team, because they had also rescued two tiny kittens floating in a waterway, and a baby squirrel with a broken leg.

Many towns are still flooded, rivers are still rising with in wash and the results of the 15 inches of rain that fell in 8 hours. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all SC Scouts could volunteer to help people clean up and rebuild? Is community just your neighborhood–or is it all who have need?

Things I Learned:

  1. Be Prepared. I used to teach emergency preparedness for a special class of students in Washington County. At a lecture I was attending,  someone responded and debunked the 48 hour kit. I know now he was right. Unless you are at the epicenter of a disaster, it might take weeks to get help. He suggested 30 days of provisions for each family member. One local coastal town had 16 feet of sand on their roads. They still can’t get home. Emergency workers begin at the worst place and work their way out.
  1. If you are told something by some form of Government, follow instructions. Your property is not worth your life. If you were ordered to evacuate and did not do so, you were told they would not endanger others to help you. As a Scout, you have a duty to God and country. This means being a good citizen and obeying the laws.
  1. Know your neighbors. You never know if you will need help, or if you can be of service to others. Is this not the duty to other people, the cheery smile and a helping hand?

4. Be kind to all of God’s creatures. I think that is part of our duty to God. Who would have thought about a snake rescue? This young couple are my heroes. Of course, they knew how to do it safely. Never approach a wild animal that’s acting strangely. It could be rabid.

5. Because in other states, people would not evacuate without their pets, our State opened pet shelters. As most pet owners agree, pets are family too. In some you could even shelter with your pets.

6. Things are back to normal for me. I think everyone is aware of the unusual weather patterns we have been having.   There are more earthquakes, tornadoes, and cyclones and floods. It also seems that the west coast is constantly burning.  Matthew was unusual as it traveled south to north.  A typical hurricane comes ashore from east to west. I think it is important to work on your Emergency Preparedness Merit Badge, so you can always be helpful in the right way.

7. All of us are vulnerable. When I lived in Northern Utah, our house and property we owned were both directly over earthquake faults. Anywhere there could be a natural disaster.

When Hurricane Hugo hit my house in 1989 and I lived just a few miles from the beach, everyone shared. I think it is a sad commentary of the times that people no longer do that. I’m not very good at asking for help. I am glad I survived with minimal damage because I had learned important Scouting lessons.

After the hurricane, my Scout son and his two Scout sons came and cleaned up all my broken limbs, my roof and gutters. I feel blessed to have raised a Scouter with a good heart.

So, Scouts, help your family and neighbors to “Be Prepared.”  They will certainly be grateful.

Joyce Olesen
is a grandmother, mother, and daughter of Scouters. She love kids, camping, country music and sport cars. Her Dad was a Scout leader in Chicago in the early 1920’s and having only daughters did not bolster his Scouting hopes. As his "Scout" she was tying regulation knots by the time she was 7.

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