October 2017

Tropical Storm Irma

Author: Becca Edwards

Every action movie follows the same narrative arc/plot line. We begin with the exposition as we meet the protagonist and antagonist. An inciting incident leads to the rising action and eventually the climactic scene in which the protagonist and the antagonist duke it out in a battle of wills that leaves us, the viewers, at the edge of our seat or sofa, before we come to a resolution. Take Sharknado, for example. Fin Shepard (Ian Ziering) is the protagonist and a spiraling, 100-plus-mph vortex of very “hangry” sharks is the antagonist. During the climax, Fin tells his son (who looks more like his brother) he’s “going to finish this,” pushes the nitrous button in a stolen Hummer filled with handmade bombs, gives the hang ten hand gesture and bails from his car, ultimately blowing up the final sharknado. Next, an important plot element happens: The, “Oh, hell no!” moment (a.k.a. turning point). Just when we think, “Whew, we showed those sharks,” a giant one comes barreling out of the sky toward Fin’s (equally not believable) daughter. Wielding a chainsaw, he leaps into the shark’s mouth, chainsaws his way out and rescues Nova (Cassandra Scerbo), his hottie sidekick. In spite of being drenched in shark guts, all ends well for Fin and friends.

My family knows a lot about Sharknado after binge watching all four movies while waiting for “Irma-geddon”—a storm that followed its own narrative arc for everyone here on Hilton Head Island and in Bluffton. Our expedition began more than a week before the storm hit the Lowcountry Monday, September 11, as we—the protagonists—watched our formidable foe Irma as she built strength and media attention. Our inciting incident: the decimation of beloved Caribbean countries like the British Virgin Islands and St. Martin. Our rising action: the impending doom and destruction reported by every media outlet and overly-committed Weather Channel watcher as Irma furiously gusted and gunned for Florida. Local schools and businesses, still gun-shy from Hurricane Matthew, began closing.

From that moment on, it was a real nail biter. Grocery stores transformed into social gatherings, as people packed their carts with water, wine, beer, stress-eat worthy snacks and canned goods. Conversations included all the various storm scenarios, ironic accounts of people who had finally moved back into their houses or received insurance checks from our last natural disaster, and discussions about the best routes and places to evacuate.

Then, despite Irma’s westward turn, Friday, September 8, Governor Henry McMaster ordered a mandatory evacuation for Hilton Head Island, to start at 10 a.m. the following day. We each had to decide how we wanted our climatic moment to go down and how were we going to defeat Irma—both in terms of protecting our families and properties and healing the still-raw wound left by Matthew.

Saturday morning, after watching three different news sources for over four hours and talking ad nauseam about the storm surge, three factors led to our decision to stay. One: We have what many refer to as the Geriatric Menagerie or Edwards’ Arc—a.k.a. two very old and arthritic dogs, one cat with a serious heart murmur and one we call Pirate Kitty, because she’s 19 years old, mean and has one eye; two rescue turtles; one rescue bird; one rescue bunny; and countless fish. Two: We remembered how difficult and expensive it was to evacuate, and we didn’t want the frustration of having to wait to return, especially if our island needed rebuilding. And three: We saw our neighbor Mary Williams at Harris Teeter and she asked, “Hey, want to have a hurricane party?”

Williams reminded us that we were not in this battle alone and that we could face our foe as a united, cocktail-in-hand, front. “Why go through something like that by yourself when you can be surrounded by your good friends and neighbors?” said Williams, who also saw staying as a way to build morale and community.

Williams was not the only resident ready to turn the tide on Irma and all the negative feelings she incited in each of us. Sarah Perry of Branches hosted a potluck mock-Thanksgiving dinner at her home that included a homemade chocolate cake with Irma written in icing and seasonal Turkey Day fixins’ like stuffing and sweet potato casserole. “We knew that most of our neighbors around us had stayed, and we wanted to get together for a potluck. The storm had changed so many times, that everyone was on edge. It just seemed like a logical menu for the occasion,” Perry said. “Thanksgiving represents family tradition and comfort food. Something everyone needed at the time. Someone volunteered to make their mother-in-law’s sweet potato casserole, someone else claimed mashed potatoes and another, pumpkin pie, and it just came together.” Laughing, she added, “I will say it’s hard to track down a turkey during a hurricane in September, but six chickens filled in just fine. People dropped in, fixed a plate and enjoyed food, football and a bonfire. It was a very calm moment during a hectic 72 hours. It was important to show our children that we are all together and safe.”

Restaurants also joined in on the anti-storm shenanigans. Amanda Russ of Pomodori knows the soul-healing power of good Italian food and spirits. She offered a free bottle of wine to anyone who wanted to eat dinner. “I think in times of crisis or uncertainty we are all brought back to our most basic needs, comfort and community being two of the most important. We felt grateful to be of service to our family and friends, even if it was with a simple treat like a bottle of wine,” Russ said.

Friends, neighbors and business owners like Williams, Perry and Russ—and probably even you—are the reason why we as a community weathered Irma so well. Sure, many properties were damaged, with many people faring worse against Irma than Matthew flooding-wise. But, like any victorious protagonist, we prevailed and even merged forces with two valuable life-lessons. One: The Power of Mother Nature. “Irma gave us a new meaning to living on the water,” Williams said. “During the storm, I kept saying this was a non-event, and then it was like someone flipped a switch. No matter what window I went to, I had a waterfront view. I was surrounded by water. The street was like a river. It was incredibly powerful.” And two: We are truly HHI and Bluffton Strong. “Both towns have such an amazing spirit. We’re tidal people; we go with the flow, come what may, and thankfully we are a community full of life savers through a storm,” Russ said.

These two take-aways give us our resolution with Irma, but there’s a cliffhanger. Many people worry every year will bring a storm sequel—with new plot twists and villains. And this is a legit concern. But there is a fighter song in each of us and, come hell or high water, the good guy always wins. Always.

Becca Edwards is a wellness professional, freelance writer, and owner of b.e.WELL+b.e.CREATIVE (bewellbecreative.com).

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