A semi-circle of pickup trucks sat clustered in the sandy parking lot of McClellanville’s historic waterfront Friday afternoon, their drivers chuckling and talking local politics through rolled down windows.
But they also were discussing the looming hurricane – and why they had decided not to leave. Some of the few folks left in town as the storm approached said they either weren’t worried about Matthew or they couldn’t abandon McClellanville for other reasons.
“We’re pretty tough up through here,’’ said Bill Shaw, a biological consultant who has lived in McClellanville for five years. “This is not yuppy land by any means. We’ve got boats and generators and batteries and water and food and chainsaws. I don’t think it’ll be any real big problem – hopefully.’’
If any town knows about hurricanes, it’s McClellanville, a community of live oak trees, frame houses, shrimping docks and several hundred residents between Charleston and Georgetown.
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In 1989, Hurricane Hugo pushed waves of water so high through McClellanville that folks seeking shelter in a local school nearly drowned. Oak trees fell from the more than 130 mph winds and people huddled in the second floors of homes as the water inched higher.
Since that time, McClellanville has recovered. Many of the big trees that were damaged survived. Others have grown in the places of trees that were lost. The community has a local coffee shop, well regarded for its good brew and great gossip. And McClellanville’s signature shrimp boats continue to cast their nets.
Now, another hurricane looked like it might hit the coast nearby.
As he watched neighbors evacuate this week and turn quiet McClellanville into a virtual ghost town, shrimper Chip Racine said he decided to stay put. His livelihood, a shrimp boat docked by the waterfront, needed protection, he said.
Like his friend Shaw, Racine said he had enough supplies, as well as a generator, to make it through Matthew. His home, built 10 years ago, also sits on pilings more than 10 feet above the ground. And he had boarded up some of the windows in his home.
“We made it one time before,’’ Racine said. “I don’t think it’s going to be like Hurricane Hugo. And if something happens and the boat is here, I feel like maybe I can save it. That’s the biggest thing.’’
The weather in McClellanville was mild Friday. A light rain fell and breezes blew through the trees, but nothing indicated a hurricane was on the way. Weather forecasts indicated the storm would blow through Saturday and move up the coast toward Myrtle Beach before heading offshore.
Cheves Leland, whose family has roots in McClellanville, didn’t evacuate, but did move to a neighbor’s house that she considered more secure than her own. Leland said she had respect for the coming storm, “but I’m not terrified.’’
She said the memories of Hugo had been hard for her to shake. She weathered the deadly storm in Mt. Pleasant, listening to the wailing winds tear facades from buildings and send shingles flying.
For years afterward, she said a big wind storm would bring back unpleasant thoughts. She said locals like herself were taking Matthew with the proper respect, without evacuating. Most had taken precautions. She put her backyard chickens in coops high enough to withstand flooding, Leland said.
She said hurricanes are part of living on the coast.
“It’s just something you have to deal with,’’ she said.
Jim Lawrimore said he also stayed, but was having second thoughts as the day wore on Friday. Forecasts showed the storm running along the entire South Carolina coast, including the McClellanville area.
“I’m deciding right now what to do; I might try to leave,’’ he said from the front seat of his pickup truck. “If we get a nine-foot surge, your head will be three feet underwater.’’