Lessons from Beach Evacuation

Well, the kids experienced their first beach evacuation. And it taught me a lot about my family, myself, and others.

Hoards of people hurriedly packing up sandy beach gear, streaming up and over the dunes, swarming across the streets and highway while thunder claps, lightening crackles, and warm rain pours. It’s a beach life milestone and a memory-maker, for sure. But it’s also a test of character.

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I was on the beach solo with my three children — aged 7, 5, and 3 — while The Hubs popped into town to grab some yummy cold brew coffee for him and me. I saw the gray clouds and, knowing the fickle nature of seaside weather, began to pack the beach cart with presently unused items as the kids played. Soon I felt rain and called my brood close to start getting flip flops on feet and chairs folded. Just as I heaved the mesh laundry bag of toys into the beach cart: thunder. The lifeguard blew the whistle signaling the evacuation.

Swimmers herded like soggy cattle from the ocean to the sand. People in large groups and simple pairs grabbed their gear and swarmed to the exit. Just as the first few sandy evacuees crested the dunes, The Hubs walked down the hill carrying two cups of sweating cold brew coffee.

He made his way to us. The kids were just about ready to depart but there was still some packing to do. “You take the kids. Get them out of here. I’ll finish this and meet you in the parking lot,” I told The Hubs. He briefly disputed, kindly saying he’d shoulder the burden of packing up but he had the kid cart attached to his bike, so it only made sense that he get the kids off the sand and away to safety. “I want them out of here,” I told him. I knew how dangerous thunderstorms were on the beach.

As plump raindrops fell heavy and thunder grumbled, off went my herd over the dunes while I completed the last bits of clean up. The whole time I checked about me, cognizant of my neighbors. In these snapshots of perception, I felt an almost voyeuristic, telling awareness of them.

What you see in your fellow beachgoers is generally limited at best. If anyone looks up from their book or sandwich or ocean view it’s usually only for a brief glance or a passing nicety. Emotional sharing and soul baring is not the stuff of seaside tourists. And unintentionally unveiling one’s true inner self is most certainly not commonplace.

But in that odd moment of rush and worry, you could see the part of people they kept hidden. The aniexty, the selfishness, the kindness, the bravery, the vulnerability they keep wrapped and bound beneath a carefully curated exterior.

Some gathered blankets in rumpled sandy lumps beneath their arms, dragging beach chairs in their wake, without a thought about the friends they just abandoned or those they cut in front of in line; they purely focused on their own safety. Some yelled and panicked, barked orders and swirled, overwhelmed by the situation, their taskload, their emotions. They fired frenzied orders in between anxious glances at the darkening afternoon sky. Some froze with eyes wide and jaws slack witnessing the evacuation as if from afar. Some laughed and shrugged entirely unaffected by the change in plans while others grumbled as if the weather was a personal affront. Some herded and helped, shouldered others’ loads and ushered strangers to safety. Some simply followed.

Checking that my cart was properly loaded before I began my exit, I noticed my neighbors — a young grandmother, a tween girl, and a 4-year-old boy — were standing entirely still watching the exodus while holding onto the metal beach umbrella still planted in the sand.

Thunder rolled. Lightning cracked. I had to get them out of there.

“Excuse me ma’am,” the girl asked. “Do we really need to leave the beach in a storm?” “Yes,” I said, “lightening likes to strike people on the beach and we have lots of metal,” I said motioning to my beach cart and their umbrella, “so it’s not safe to stay.” The grandmother seemed to be returning to awareness but seemed entirely incapable of taking charge in that moment.

“Can I take your things on my cart? I can get you to the parking lot” I said, looking up at the grandmother as I grabbed two corners of their beach blanket. She nodded, wide-eyed. I rolled up the blanket folded their chairs and popped the items on top of my cart. The tween girl folded the umbrella and removed it from the ground. The 4-year-old boy, still in a dripping wet Puddle Jumper floatie, grabbed a bag. Grandma shouldered the dismantled umbrella and off we went into the exiting masses we .

“Where are you from?” I asked the tween, trying to lighten things as the rain grew steady. It turned out they lived an hour away from where I grew up. At the top of the packed sand ramp we ran into the girl’s uncle. He thanked me and unloaded the items from my cart just as thunder and lightening put on a show.

I descended into the parking lot with my beach cart and found my family. My boys were just finishing getting settled into their bike cart and my daughter was at the ready on her bike. The Hubs was chugging his coffee and held out mine to me.

I hurried The Hubs along, hoping to get the kids home to safety. Off they went and off I went. As their bikes grew smaller in the distance, relief washed over me. Now it was just me and the hoards in the thick summer rain.

Traffic on side streets came to a standstill as pedestrians and bicyclists streamed across roadways. Tensions began to ease. Chatter and laughter among stranded neighbors and strangers flourished.

Thunder boomed. Lightening split the charcoal sky. Everyone froze. Rain poured down in warm sheets. Water cascaded over the brim of my baseball cap. Some scurried to escape the deluge. Some ducked into cars. Some — like me — owned their waterlogged state.

The highway halted as the drenched herd reached the shoulder. Like swamp zombies, we lumbered across the roadway. Dry and air-conditioned motorists shook their heads in pity at us, the slovenly evacuees. Some of us groaned. Some of us fretted. Some of us shrugged against the rain. Some of us smiled knowing this was beautiful.

 

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