What a week we have had in Beaufort County. The majority of our residents in Bluffton had only heard about hurricane evacuations but never experienced it until now.
First, I want to thank Gov. Nikki Haley for the foresight to get as many residents out of our county as possible. Many Blufftonians took heed – some right away and many others later – and were able to lodge in a safe location and ride through the storm.
I evacuated during Hugo in 1989, and I know the frustration of not knowing on a minute-by-minute basis what is going on with your property. This is why I decided to post frequently on Facebook and other social media.
The response from you was overwhelming and kept me focused on continuing through the night and several days after.
As Mayor, my role was to be accessible to sign emergency documents and authorize funds for storm response. I was at Bluffton’s Emergency Operations Center, which was located in the Bluffton Police Department during the entire storm.
Bluffton Police Chief Joey Reynolds and Town Manager Marc Orlando led their troops throughout the hurricane. These two men never left their staff – working, sleeping, eating beside them as we all responded to the needs of our residents. They led by example and were able to prioritize responsibilities for themselves and others around the clock for nearly 10 days.
As part of emergency operations pre-planning, the Town established a partnership with eviCore (formerly known as CareCore National), where Town staff, police officers, firefighters and some media representatives slept. These buildings were built to withstand a Category 4 storm, so all who stayed behind to work were safe.
To see these first responders have comfort knowing they could get some rest before the aftermath, was comforting to see. However, they were ready to get out and see what they could do to help our citizens as soon as the OK was given.
Starting the morning of Oct. 8, Bluffton Police officers, firefighters and National Guard members started clearing streets, assessing damage and ensuring residents were safe.
The amount of dangling power lines and fallen trees on Bluffton’s roadways was heart-breaking. Bluffton’s Historic District was one of many areas that took a beating as debris and down trees cluttered the once-charming streets.
Riding the streets reminded me of the morning after a snow storm, except the snow was replaced by pine needles and branches along the roadway. It was eerily quiet, with no traffic whatsoever anywhere in sight. That Saturday morning, I wasn’t sure how we were going to return to the town we know and love.
The list of selfless acts are too numerous to list; however, please know the collective support and spirit of the Bluffton community is a treasure which no one takes for granted. If you ever doubt if humanity is still good, I am here to tell you – it is alive and well.
Thank you Bluffton warriors for your strength, your generosity and your actions to help your neighbors through Hurricane Matthew. It is my honor to serve this incredible community and to personally read more than 1,000 emails, texts and social media posts of people contributing to our community’s recovery.
To say this has been a humbling and life-changing experience is putting it lightly. Bluffton’s slogan, “Heart of the Lowcountry,” says it all, and on Oct. 8 that heart grew 100 times its original size.
I am proud to be your Mayor.
Please stay connected to your Town through the Facebook (Town of Bluffton Government, Bluffton Police Department), Twitter (@TownofBluffton, @BlufftonPolice) and the Bluffton Police Department app (My PD/Bluffton Police Department).
Lisa Sulka is the mayor of the Town of Bluffton.