Lessons from Hurricane Matthew

Our home sits perilously close to Lake Wackena.  This results in spectacular sunrises.   Every room has an unhampered view.  I love this house.  We have lived here for 15 years and, outside of losing a tree or two in a hurricane, we’ve had more than a decade of uneventful ownership.  Then came Hurricane Matthew.  The prediction, as it approached from South Carolina, was we’d be facing a tropical depression and ten inches of rain.  In anticipation, the village had lowered Lake Wackena by about a foot.  Plenty of room for those ten inches of rain. The rain started in earnest by about 8 AM.  By 4 PM, the water was lapping over the sea wall.  By 6 PM, the house was surrounded by water.  We escaped to a friend’s house about a mile away on higher ground.  Upon our arrival, the power went out.


I’ve heard all the stories of Hurricane Floyd and Fran.  I hadn’t lived in Eastern North Carolina and I felt like it was more like folklore than a reality.  But it was my reality now.  It’s amazing how 17 (yes, 17) inches of water in about 16 hours can radically change your life.  You may suddenly need to make a zig instead of a zag, and subsequently take stock in how lucky you really were.

Here are things I took for granted after experiencing Hurricane Matthew:


  1. Water.  Fresh, clean tap water is a beautiful thing.  On demand, 24 hours a day.  You can drink it.  Wash dishes, wash your hands, water plants, fill the dog’s water dish, mop the floor.  You can even take a bath.


  1. Coffee.  Delicious hot coffee made just to the desired lushness. Fresh and steaming hot. Sitting on your own coach snuggled up with a mug.  Ready at 5 AM without fail.


  1. Breakfast.  Eggs, bacon and sausage.  Everything held in a refrigerator waiting to be cooked on your stove or in the oven–whenever you want to make it.  No wait.  No line.


  1. Lights.  Available 24 hours a day, whether you need them or not.  You read by it, play your guitar, find things like clothes in a closet, and check to see if the attic is leaking. Or you see where the water shut off to the house before there’s trouble.  After three days of darkness, I’m still instinctively turning on the switch as I head into the bathroom with my flashlight.


  1. Toilets.  Here is another luxury that is available 24-7.  No need to bring in buckets of lake water to flush the toilet.  No worries about unsanitary waste.  No diseases running amok.


  1. Clean fingernails.  The worst part about cleaning up all the trash and debris in the yard was dirty fingernails.  With clean fingernails, you can put contact lenses in, type on an iPad, or touch your love’s face.


  1. Hot shower.  With the help of item #4, you can take a shower at 5 AM or 8 PM.  Grab some soap and shampoo, and you’ve got yourself a clean body free of mud, muck and body odor.


  1. Fans.  Fans are a marvelous and appreciated appliance.  They’re great at moving air. They help evaporate water so that mildew is prevented.


  1. Ice.  Ice is terrific for all kinds of things.  Keeping food in your thawing refrigerator cold.  Chilling down drinks and water.  In combination with an ice chest, you can keep your food fresh for maybe a week as you wait for power.


  1. Solar-powered cell phone charger.  Nuff said.  And my husband was brilliant enough to have it at home.


  1. Wi-Fi.  With this lovely invention, you can communicate with practically anyone, anywhere.  This, when paired with #10, can allow you access to fun things like buying stuff, inform the world of your whereabouts and general up-to-date info on the weather.


  1. Power.  There are lots of nifty things you can do with power.  Operate computers, televisions, shop-vacs, vacuums, blowers, refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers (in conjunction with #1), CPAP machines, invisible fences (for your dog to roam outside) coffee makers, toasters and water pick.  Pretty nice, huh?


  1. Clear roads.  It is shocking to see some of the roads that are impassable in the county where we live.  Whole roads were washed out.  They cannot be fixed in a week or two. I-95 is still impassable a week later.  Yes, the interstate.  How spoiled I was to be able to travel wherever and whenever.


  1. Abundance.  The local grocery store finally reopened when they had enough employees who could travel to work (see #13) and food to sell.  I went in looking for a frozen pizza.  The shelves were bare.  When you see a whole aisle of empty shelves in the frozen food aisle, there is the realization of how we take our American abundance for granted.


  1. Routine.  For about 4 or 5 days post-flood, I was a wreck.  Poor sleep and ongoing low-grade stress.  Uncertainty was eating at me.  I could barely work, read or write. My brain was in a fog.  The secret to getting back on track was getting back to my daily routine of meditation and exercise.  I’m slowly but surely dampening down my stress, sleeping better and getting my brain cells firing.


This has been a life-changing experience.  I am hoping I becoming more resilient from having coped with uncertainty on a day-to-day basis.  But I absolutely know that having the love and support of my husband, dog, friends, co-workers and family is irreplaceable. Gratitude abounds that we were spared the worst.  The weather has been beautiful since Matthew left and am so very grateful I still have a place to call home.

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