Just two days ago, we were standing on the shore of the Cape Fear River, looking at one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
The mandatory evacuation notice for vacationers came Monday afternoon, Sept. 10. For residents, it was Sept. 11-12. A canceled vacation only matters to those whose vacation was canceled.
We left with a light breeze blowing and the sun shining brightly. A low-pressure system came off the west coast of Africa, met favorable conditions for formation of a hurricane and threatened the East Coast of the United States. Part of living in a coastal state is the possibility of a land-falling hurricane.
The immediate dangers of this type of storm are the high winds, storm surge and torrential rains. What these things cause are downed power lines, downed trees, wind damage to homes, flooded streets and homes, flooded water treatment facilities and many other storm-related issues.
The best advice is to evacuate until the height of the storm passes. There have always been some people who are bound and determined to ride these storms out. My brother-in-law rode out Hurricane Irma in the Florida Keys last year. I would say he will not do that again.
Many people seem to care more about their stuff than they do their own life. With the advances in storm prediction, we can know days in advance the where and when of a landfall. We need to make the best of our time pre-storm and do all we can do to limit the damage to our property. Once that is done, we need to get to a safe haven.
The danger of not evacuating the path of one of these storms could mean that at the height of the storm, help may not be able to get to you. First responders know their jobs and their responsibility to help those in need, but they also have a responsibility to protect themselves. At the height of wind and storm surge, the public safety response may have to cease until conditions improve enough for safe operations to resume. I remember responding to a water-related emergency during Hurricane Isabel. It was just before the height of the storm reached Chester. Engine 1 and Truck 14 became trapped on Lewis Road by falling trees that were entangled by power lines both in front of and behind us. Trees were falling all around us, with one tree falling across Truck 14. I remember our two crews stopping for a moment and praying for God’s protection in that moment.
Wind, storm surge and torrential, flooding rains combine to cause long-lasting problems. Hurricanes and tropical systems can be predominantly wind or rain events. The real problem comes when a hurricane is a wind and rain event. Creeks become raging torrents. The oceans extend beyond their boundaries. Rivers expand beyond their banks. New inlets are cut, tying the ocean to the sound. Flooded roadways cause roads to wash out. Roads may seem passable, but it only takes six inches of moving water to wash a car away. If you approach a water-covered roadway, “turn around, don’t drown.”
I was driving back to Coast Guard Station Hatteras Inlet one night during a winter storm. Winds were blowing at about 80 mph. The ocean overran Highway 12 between Avon and Buxton. By the time that I realized that the water had overrun Highway 12, my car was stuck. By the time it was over, waves were breaking over the top of my car. Flooded areas need to be avoided at all costs.
Tropical systems are something that we deal with from June 1 to Nov. 1, with the peak being in September. Some years are better than others, but the potential and probability are the highest right now.
Whatever preparation looks like, make use of the time before a tropical system comes ashore. It is not heroic to ride out one of these storms, but stupid and selfish.
When public safety officials, the Coast Guard or the National Guard must come to your rescue, you have put their lives in jeopardy.
Thank you to all who put their lives on the line for others. Take care of yourselves as we navigate these tropical systems.