Editor’s note: Brittany McClure is the public relations manager for the city of Hinesville. During Hurricane Matthew, she worked around the clock to help keep residents informed of the storm’s impact. Afterward, we asked her to write a first-person account of her experience.
As a newish mother to an 11-month-old, when I heard a hurricane was coming, my instinct was to immediately evacuate and get my baby, Sawyer, to safety. But as the city of Hinesville’s public relations manager, I had a duty to stay behind in Liberty County’s Emergency Operation Center and keep our citizens informed through things like Facebook and Twitter.
I take great pride in the responsibility I have to our citizens, but any woman who has ever had a child can empathize with the "mama bear mode" that seems to take over during an impending natural disaster.
To make matters worse, my husband is a detective in Richmond Hill, so he also had a duty to stay behind and protect and serve those in need.
Being that my home was in a mandatory evacuation zone, we had no choice but to ask my parents to evacuate our baby for us. I packed up his blankie, pacifiers, his lifelong naptime companion John Henry Bear and left my parents with critical, detailed instructions that included how he liked to be rocked during his feeding before bed while I sang to him.
I kissed Sawyer goodbye the Thursday before the hurricane at 7 a.m.
Leaving him was difficult and I am not embarrassed to admit that I cried a few times in City Hall. Thankfully, I have wonderful co-workers who assured me that I was not an awful mother.
I knew that what I did was for the best, but being that he was also very sick at the time, made me question every professional decision I have ever made for myself.
Sawyer entered this world very sick and as a result he has had a colorful medical history. As I was working that day, preparing for the hurricane, all I could think about is what if the traffic was so horrible that they couldn’t get him to a hospital in time?
My parents who were driving him to North Georgia shared the same fears as he was projectile vomiting in the backseat of the car with a spiked fever. During those moments, I felt all I could do was have faith. So that’s what I did.
Friday morning, I reported to the EOC and for 32 straight hours, I focused on my citizens.
Yes, "my citizens."
During the hurricane, I felt a deep responsibility to the people who were using the city’s social media outlets and website as a lifeline. I posted every update that was available and did my best to answer every question because I knew that if I was on the other end of that rope, that it is what I would hope someone would do for me.
Being away from my baby, husband and home was difficult.
When I was seeing pictures from neighbors of our street being flooded, I couldn’t help but wonder what shape our very first home would be in when all of this was done. As panic set in, I was reminded from all the city and county employees and officials in the EOC with me that I was not alone.
We were all away from our families and homes. We were all in it together.
I finally got to leave the EOC on Sunday at 4:30 p.m. As email and phone communication failed early on, I was thrilled to re-enter civilization, even if it was battered with trees and debris.
In the aftermath of this storm, I am reminded that my story is one of many. Our first responders, emergency personnel, city and county officials, linemen, hospital staff and nearly all of our citizens have stories of their own.
Through all of our frustration and sometimes criticism of others, it is helpful to remember that we are all people. Be patient, be kind and be grateful.
We’re all in this together.