The governor’s evacuation order pushed a Beaufort family of 14 and a young Charleston couple to throw together a few things and head toward Columbia.
“I did not want to,” Sylvia Blake, 47, said Thursday afternoon of leaving home for a city she had never visited. If the decision was hers alone, the Beaufort native said she would have ridden out Hurricane Matthew as it heads toward the South Carolina coast.
Yet, sitting in a temporary shelter in the gym of Dent Middle School while her three children and the kids of her relatives played and laughed, Blake is persuaded that leaving was a good idea – though perhaps a bit premature.
She and her family were among 61 people at the shelter by Thursday night, including 20 children. As many as 200 are expected, said shelter supervisor Carolyn Johnson.
“We all live in mobile homes now,” Blake, a home health aide, said of the relatives who formed a five-vehicle family caravan and left Beaufort at 9 a.m. Thursday. “We got them big, double-wides,” but they’re not stable enough to risk their lives, she said.
Five hours later, the brood found the shelter along Decker Boulevard with the aid of the Red Cross and their mobile phones. They plan to sleep on cots and eat meals cooked in the school kitchen until it’s safe to return home.
Asked if she’s worried what might remain when she gets home, Blake said, “Actually, no. It’s material.”
She said she stayed in Beaufort through Hurricane Hugo in 1989 because she lived in a brick home at the time. She evacuated 10 years later when Hurricane Floyd drove tens of thousands from the Lowcountry.
The lane reversal along the long route from Beaufort made this trip much better, Blake said. “It was smooth sailing; well planned,” she said. But Blake wishes that Gov. Nikki Haley had waited a little longer before issuing mandatory evacuation orders for coastal communities.
Blake and her family are watching Matthew’s path on their mobile phones.“Just as soon as I hear that it has passed or turned, I’m outta here.”
A Spanish-speaking man and his son at the shelter decided against placing their six cockateils with Pets Inc. So the two regularly walk to the Dent parking lot to check on their birds, who are in cages in the back of their white Chevy Tahoe. The father, in broken English, said they’ve had the birds six years and see them as their children.
Two adults trying to return to Florida showed up Thursday night, the shelter supervisor said.
Johnson, who runs the Dent shelter, said it has operated smoothly after at first having a shortage of cots. One client who suffers heart disease, diabetes and is on dialysis had to be treated because he left his medications at home.
Sterlin Casseus and his girlfriend found their way to the only other shelter open in the metropolitan Columbia area – at White Knoll High School in the Lexington County community of Red Bank.
Casseus, 20, from Charleston said he Googled places to stay after motels were booked or prices were too much. Deciding to heed the governor’s order, the couple packed up after he got off work Wednesday.
“You just don’t want to be one of those people who are swamped,” he said Thursday after a night in the safety of the shelter.
On the road from Charleston to Columbia, the wind was beginning to whip and gas stations already had posted sign their pumps had run dry. “Everywhere we went, you saw, ‘Out of service’ signs. You couldn’t find gas anywhere.”
Johnson, the director at the Dent shelter, said early arrivals had trouble finding the school. But the pace quickened on Thursday. As the storm draws closer, the gym’s population likely will grow, she said.
State photograph Tim Dominick contributed.