• By James Fasino

Hunkered Down

I had relocated in July of 2018 from my home of thirty-one years in NJ to a resort oceanfront condo on the illustrious Myrtle Beach (MB) in South Carolina. Subsequently, having been settled in for barely two months Hurricane Florence reared her ugly head as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 130 MPH and inevitably a mandatory evacuation order was declared for Zone “A” along the coastline of the city. So, being a northerner, the situation was foreign to me and so I grappled with the decision as to evacuate or not. My first instinct was to stay, but finding myself virtually alone in an 800-room complex with a monster storm barreling in gave me pause because rescuers would have no obligation to aid me once the wind speeds exceeding 35 MPH. Consequently, the day prior to landfall and at the urging of my sister living in Florida I hastily made travel arrangements to evacuate to Ft, Lauderdale, but at premium expense due to my delayed decision. Then, as it turned out MB was pretty much spared so it was all for naught, I thought. Especially because all the while I was in Florida, I was monitoring the weather reports closely and hoping against hope that the magnificent Myrtle Beach would be spared obliteration. Well, here it is hurricane season 2019 and Dorian has devastated the Bahamas is threatening Florida and is headed my way so I once more find myself under a mandatory evacuation order. But since current weather forecasts advise that the storm has been downgraded from a category 5 to a cat 2 with 55-70 MPH winds, I’ve made the informed decision to hunker down and stay at home for this one. Contributing to my conclusion is that the storm path prohibits me from traveling south, but I could head west and rent a hotel room, however being unfamiliar with the region I might select a flood area owing to the many lakes, rivers and tributaries situated in western South Carolina. And, again I must consider the expense because I will be barred from returning to MB until after the order has been lifted; and that amounted to ten days during Florence. Besides, I’ve been befriended by some of the staff at the resort over the past year and that includes the maintenance manager who will remain on site for the duration of the storm. So, I am not on my own this time. Since I live in a studio condo my only necessary prep work is to bungee cord the deck furniture and my bicycle out on the balcony. I have a battery powered lantern and flashlight in the event of a power outage, however, that’s unlikely because all cabling is subterranean in this area of MB. The hotel structure was built in the early ‘70s and is constructed of steel beams and poured concrete, therefore, its permanency is comparable to a mid-evil fortress, and all the exterior glass was replaced with hurricane resistant panes long ago and it has withstood numerous tropical storms and hurricanes over the years. I walked through the dim and vacant lobby and hallways this morning passing by the unoccupied front desk and closed restaurants and from my balcony later-on I looked out over the uninhabited beach with a closed and people-less swimming pool and hot tubs below. The scene gave the impression of a scene from the movie The Shining provoking me to wonder “where’s Johnny?” It’s Tuesday morning and the sky is overcast blocking out the sun with an intermittent drizzle falling and the wind speed has increased gusting up a sea chop and the conditions have plunged Myrtle Beach into an uncharacteristic dismal state; a sure sign that calamity is in the offing. So, having made the commitment to stay I sit here waiting, watching, and writing. And, now at 5:30P the latest update has hurricane warnings up and predicts conditions steadily worsening towards midnight tonight with the storm currently churning 150 miles offshore of Charleston anticipated to pass off our coast beginning tomorrow morning packing 105 MPH winds with a 5-8’ tidal surge. The police have reported that most people have ignored the evacuation order with only a 15% compliance rate, the majority of stayers citing the difficulty of access into the MB area upon their return after Florence the reason for their obstinacy. Now, at 7:30 pm, the storm is located 220 miles SE of MB with 40-50 MPH wind gusts on shore and the expected track NW towards NC. And, if it doesn’t conform then it could make landfall near MB. Most businesses have been shuttered as well as two of the three local hospital emergency facilities and the city that was teeming with vacationers earlier in the week has quickly morphed into a ghost town. At 10 pm I’m on the balcony observing current conditions. The drizzle has become a steady rain with the winds increased and gusting more heavily now. Also, the surf is up, the waves drubbing the beach. It’ll be unfortunate if we realize any significant erosion as a multimillion-dollar beach replenishment program was completed just this past fall. Also, down the beach south of here the iconic Springmaid Beach Pier is finally being reconstructed after being nearly totally wrecked and closed due to Matthew in 2016. 11 pm, Wednesday, Sept. 4; Dorian has just been upgraded by the National Hurricane Center (NHC) to a Cat 3 with 115 MPH winds due to her passing over the warm Gulf waters but no further change is expected. And, it’s not likely that the eye will cross the SC coast; that’s a relief. If the storm should intensify to a Cat 4 or worse than my backup plan is to jump into my Jeep and head north while risking being stopped by the police. 4:00 am -Thursday, Sept. 5; I was awakened by the clamor of my patio furniture rattling around out on the balcony signaling that conditions have worsened significantly with the winds having increased and there’s a driving rain outside. The “core” is forecasted to have approached the coast of Charleston on Wednesday night into Thursday morning, the Hurricane Center said. Downtown Charleston is currently experiencing flooding and Dorian is expected to run parallel along the coast of the Carolinas into Friday. Any deviation to the west could bring the storm's center onshore, according to the NHC which could be devastating to MB. More than one million people in parts of South and North Carolina are under mandatory evacuation orders said forecasters. And, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper urged residents to conform to local official’s instructions. "Don't try to ride it out. It's not worth putting your life at risk or endangering first responders who might have to save you" he said. The storm is churning in the Atlantic Ocean about 105 miles south of Charleston, and is expected at Myrtle at 2 am on Friday, so I have a long way to go before this escapade concludes. But I’m not concerned…yet. The local TV stations report that thunder storms in the area are spurring tornadoes and that a tornado watch has been posted for Horry County where Myrtle Beach is located and various localized tornado warnings are being posted when radar distinguishes ensuing rotations that may form into actual tornadoes. Then, a TV meteorologist analyses each tempest and provides speeds of movement usually at 35-40 MPH and then designates the actual streets where the tornadoes are forming and advise residents to seek their “tornado safe places” away from windows and doors, and at the lowest level of their structure. That kind of specific data hits home that I’m in a potentially serious situation here and arouses me to wonder if tornadoes can form over the ocean as my glass sliders are hurricane resistant but not tornado proof. With that in mind, I returned to bed momentarily but then decided to have my first cup of morning coffee instead. 7:10 am; Friday, Sept. 6: I’m monitoring the situation by clicking through all TV channels and am receiving repeated break-in audio alerts that a tornado watch is in effect in my area; so, that’s a concern right now. Therefore, I’m avoiding the proximity of the sliders; should they give way I do have the entire resort interior available for me to retreat to, if I get early enough warning. 9:30 am; I had my Jeep parked on high ground out front under the hotel marquee but I questioned if the rag-top will withstand the 130 MPH wind gusts being predicted now. So, I moved it into the parking garage and that gave me an opportunity to witness the outdoor conditions while walking back through the pedestrian tunnel over S. Ocean Boulevard. The conditions continue to worsen and there’s a steady blow with stronger wind gusts than before accompanied by torrential wind driven rain. And I continue to receive tornado warnings both on TV and over my cell phone. It’s being reported that many cones have been touching down all morning causing substantial damage. But, thankfully, no injuries thus far. 2:30 pm; The eyewall of the storm is located about 40 miles off the coast and south of MB now with the closest approach to be at 8P tonight, but the storm has shifted to a north, northeast track. That is fortunate since the strongest winds encircle the eyewall at 100 mph. But, the constant changes to its proposed track are becoming confusing so I question if they know where the heck it’s going to go. The Waccamaw River is expected to reach major flood stage and crest at 15.5 feet by Saturday morning which is grave news for the Low Country residents but not as bad as after Florence when it crested at over 21 feet above flood stage. I hope they don’t sustain serious damage again as many are still struggling to rebuild. Also, it’s just been reported that flash flood warnings are up and the Marsh-Walk at Murrells Inlet is flooded. Also, that nearby “Goat Island” is underwater, but all the cute little goats were evacuated two days ago, so are safe. 7:00 pm; Friday; remarkably, the winds are diminishing and the worst of Dorian has passed by MB and away from SC towards Cape Hatteras NC with the rain here expected to wind down and end by midnight. Tomorrow’s forecast is for sun with 15 mph winds. I am relieved and very grateful that my treasured Myrtle Beach has once again endured a major gale unscathed. Truth be told, that prospect troubled me more than the incurring damage to my own personal property. After all, it’s just stuff that’s easily replaceable or repaired but it would take years if ever, to bring back to the current condition of the gorgeous beach that’s home to abundant wildlife and the magnificent piers and boardwalk all of which are a beacon to vacationers and locals alike.

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