Hurricane Matthew

The night the lights went out in Georgia...

     It's been about two weeks since the sky fell on Savannah. In case you're wondering, Chicken Little was right.
     Hurricane Matthew hit Savannah on Oct. 8th. Here at River Street Sweets, on Savannah's historic waterfront, we are so blessed and fortunate to say that we made it through the storm mostly unscathed. Some of our friends and neighbors, though, weren't so lucky. This was a scary storm. It's been a life lesson for all of us.

     Matthew was heading toward Savannah as a strong category-three hurricane that had already obliterated Haiti. The storm was swirling up the U.S. Eastern seaboard and bearing down on our fair city when we were told to evacuate. Besides hurricanes Bertha (1996) and Floyd (1999), neither of which hit Savannah, Matthew was the first storm in the last two decades to threaten us with a direct blow.

     So about 500,000 residents of Chatham and other Georgia coastal counties heeded the evacuation orders and literally ran (okay, drove) for our lives, in search of higher, drier and less windy ground, leaving our homes, businesses and jobs behind.

     Here on River Street, we battened down the hatches, locked up and tried our best to prepare for what was to come. The street, normally bustling with patrons this time of year, turned into a ghost town.

     As predicted, Matthew roared through the city during the wee Saturday morning hours. Footage from River Street security cameras, social media and other various sources was frightening. This was a reality television show none of us wanted to see. Yet we had no choice but to watch as the river continued to rise, and rise, and rise, lapping at the doors of our businesses and workplaces. While the rain came down and the winds picked up, we waited and worried, and worried some more.

     For several of us, River Street is more than a place where we work, more than a tourist destination. It is home or a second home. We watched The Weather Channel with worried eyes. When the storm was over, what would we come back to? Would we have something to come back to?

     Our fears stretched beyond River Street Sweets here in Savannah. We have additional candy stores in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, which were, like us, in the direct path of the storm. We also own and operate the River Street Restaurant Group, including The Warehouse Bar and Grill; Lizzy's Bar and Grill; The Shrimp Factory; and The River House. In total, we have over a dozen coastal businesses in Georgia and South Carolina - all of which were in Matthew's direct path.

     So, collectively, we all held our breath as the storm bore down - and, when it finally left - let out a huge sigh of relief. There was damage, we heard, but Savannah had survived.

     On October 9th, three nights after we were told to evacuate, the evacuation order was lifted. We were told we could go home. But when we got here, Savannah was not as we remembered. While some of us were fortunate, others were not. Matthew randomly destroyed some homes, businesses, and lives, while not touching others.

     Trees seemed to fare the worst, big, small, in each and every part of the city. Thousands of them fell, crushing whatever was beneath them. It was as if the spirit of Matthew was an angry giant, one who had stomped through our streets with a violent fury. With each brutal step, he took out thousands of trees, electricity poles and power lines, tossing them aside like popsicle sticks and string. Spanish moss, which is normally delicately draped through our ancient oaks like lace, was strewn across city streets and buildings, along with other, random debris: streets signs, garbage, pieces of roofs.

     Aside from the widespread destruction, those of us experiencing the after-the-hurricane homecoming found we had no power or running water, a situation that in several instances lasted for over seven days. The pitch black nights were enhanced by the presence of the National Guard and police patrolling neighborhood streets, and an evening curfew to defend against looters, who like the storm were not just a threat, but a reality.

     By Tuesday, some businesses (including us) began to slowly, sporadically open as they were able to. Schools were closed for the week so that everyone could recover.

     As that first week of recovery progressed, something deeper and stronger began to emerge here in Savannah. Acts of good will and kindnesses big and small began to show themselves. Strangers helped strangers clear debris. Neighbors handed out food. Volunteers were everywhere, looking for ways to help. Citizens offered extra kindnesses to emergency workers, whether in the form of a verbal thank you, free food or drive-by thumbs-ups..

     Here at River Street Sweets and the Savannah Restaurant Group, most of us were anxious to get back to work. In addition to the physical destruction, the storm caused missed wages and unexpected evacuation costs. Many of us have children but no weekday childcare since schools were closed. For those reasons, owners Jennifer and Tim Strickland opened up a free daycare for employees. They also provided employees who came back to work, as well as utility/emergency crews, with free hot meals from The River House and The Shrimp Factory.

     That was all last week. This week and next, cleanup continues. Students are back in school. Life is getting back to normal.

     As we continue to recover, signs of the storm are still everywhere. Workers continue to repair power lines and remove tree skeletons that litter the roads and properties. Families grieve for those who were lost. Rebuilding begins. And while the storm left behind destruction and debris, it also gave us something else.

     Matthew inspired kindness. It showed us not what, but who Savannah is made of. It made us thankful for our lives, and most importantly one another.

     We are lucky. We are blessed.

     Have a sweet week.


A long, strong, history...

Our Flagship store is housed in one of the oldest buildings on Savannah's River Front. It has weathered storms, wars, fires, and more, before we came along. We are sure it will stand the test of time for us as well!

Taking Care...

Taking a moment to say 'HI' in the makeshift daycare in the corporate offices at River Street Sweets. A big THANK YOU to Christian and Emily Rushing who came every day to take care of our families!