All Car Central Magazine

Hurricane Matthew and Cars
By Geoff Wheatley

Lad Self Drive Cars

September 30 - October 9, 2016: Hurricane Matthew leaves path of destruction from the Caribbean to the Southeast U.S.

Starting out as a Category 5 strength with 160 mph winds, Matthew made landfall in Haiti and eastern Cuba on Oct. 4 as a Category 4.

Then it hit southeastern United States as a Category 1 hurricane with 75 mph winds.

A first hand story by AllCarCentral contributor Geoff Wheatley about his encounter with this deadly force and the damage to his home and prized collection of vintage cars.

Hurricane Matthew and Cars. by Geoff Wheatley

Like many others my knowledge of Hurricanes’ was limited to news reels and T.V. Lots of water, fallen trees. Floating cars etc. I knew nothing about power loss which mean the virtually everything in your home became useless. Sewerage problems where you were advised not to flush, assuming of course that you had water to flush with! Fallen trees that left large holes in your drive or roads. Food going bad in refrigerators, including ice that melted, re froze, and then melted again, leaving more water all over the kitchen floor. Cars with soaking wet interiors and worse still salt drying out in the carpets of your favorite vehicle. Batteries shorting out when the flood water reached them like the rear end of a continental car that for some reason always seems to have the battery located low in the rear trunk. How do I know all this? Simple, Hurricane Mathew paid a visit to my island on its way north and left its calling card on my door step.

Like a sensible individual I decided to take a short vacation away from the South Carolina Coastline and joined the hundreds of others who had the same idea, once it became clear that we were going to get a visit from Mathew. Living on an island can be a delight but trying to depart in company with five hundred other vehicles over a single two way bridge becomes quite a challenge. What would normally take half an hour took at least two and that was just the start. Fuel stations were closed as the owners and staff joined the caravan of departure. So every so often you saw a driver waving franticly seeking fuel as he and his companions were stranded on the side of the highway. I have to add that the local police did a sterling job assisting these people and after pouring a few drops of the magic liquid into empty tanks, directed them and of course us, to the nearest gas station that was still open. By luck, and I mean that, I had a spare can of fuel in my garage that was to prove to be a God Send later in the evacuation.

We had been fortunate enough to arrange for a place to stay about eighty miles inland from the coast but it took over four hours to arrive at our destination due to packed roads and many hold-ups ie. traffic congestion, people lost and various police checks to ensure that no one was in need of medical treatment. This may sound strange but later we read that several people had suffered problems as a result of the pending storm and required medical assistance. My wife and I took terms driving while “Charlie” our gift from the local Humane Society, (of dubious pedigree but with a heart of gold ), quietly sat in the rear taking in all the local action. For the next few days we kept up with the news and got reports on damage etc., via our laptop computer. In between we toured to local country side, something that I had always promised to do but never found the time, and discovered that South Carolina was a delightful state to be stranded in. Local people went out of their way to help and I guess for a short time we knew what it must be like to be a refugee, a comfortable one of course!

Entry back to the island was curtailed for several days but after the ban was lifted, we hit the road wondering what delights awaited our return. Not quite so long on the returning drive but there were still various hold-ups caused by people like ourselves trying to return home.

Once again the local police did an excellent job sorting out these problems, and later I discovered that many of them had put in a sixteen hour day helping the returning cars and trucks to get through the various traffic problems, not least being the fact that there is only one bridge, although for some time there has been serious talk about building another. (Note the term talk.)

During our evacuation we did get pictures from the area where we live and were comforted by the fact that none of the damaged homes looked like ours. We have a large Oak Tree in the front of the house that is about seventy years old, it was not featured in any of the damaged pictures. Hilton Head Island is famous for its abundance of trees, in fact it’s difficult to remove one without permission from the powers that be. To cut down a tree was almost like sending a close relative to Siberia. As we crossed the fore mentioned bridge it became obvious that the view of the island had suddenly opened to reveal locations that we had not observed before. Why? Many of the treasured trees had simply gone.

It is now estimated that at least 25%of the tree population no longer reside on the island, removed by Mathew in a matter of a few hours. There were fallen trees everywhere you looked, now cut to a handling size and piled up at the side of the roads. The design of the island is to have communities of mixed private dwellings. Some communities are quite large others small, the small being perhaps eighty or so dwellings. All were liberally abundant with trees, mostly tall pines. Turning into my community we were confronted with piles of debris, mostly from the trees that had either been uprooted or stripped of their foliage. We also discovered why we had not recognized out house with the large oak tree. The tree was no longer there, in its place was a large hole, make that a very large hole! The oak had managed to hit another pine located close to the house and in consequence damaged the roof. (When that tree was eventually cut down it was over 116 feet high).

My concern was twofold, would I have power to open the garage doors and if so what would I find? The answer to the first question was yes the second was a few damp cars but nothing serious. We estimated from the water marks that we had about eighteen inches of flooding with four cars in the garage, that was enough to give the carpets in the Porsche a washing but nothing else was affected, (so I thought until later!) A couple of my neighbors lost at least one car from water damage and others suffered the same experience as myself with wet interiors etc.

My advice to anyone who faces a similar experience is “Get To Hell Out’, as soon as you can. I did not, intending to ride out the storm until sanity prevailed and we packed our goodies and departed. If like me you have cars that you are required to leave behind try to put them on bricks or wood blocks to increase the height between the floor and the car. (Of course I did not ). Even worse I have a garage lift that would certainly have accommodated the Porsche and given the car a couple of feet of open space between the floor and the lift.

Slowly we are recovering but it’s certainly a long term objective. Looking on the bright side we now have more sunlight on the front of the house due to the removal of the oak tree and there will be far less leaves to pick up next year! One thing is for sure, such adventures tend to bring out the very best in people. (On second thoughts make that the majority of people)
Geoff Wheatley © 2016
Contact Geoff Wheatley


All Cars • • Racing • • VINTAGE • • Shows • • Gallerys • • Contact

Scroll to Top