HILTON HEAD ISLAND — Bob Zolton knew the drill, literally.

To him, the name of the hurricane can change but the game is still the same. He grabs his beat-up, red cordless drill, several sheets of plywood and some screws. After five years of consistent hurricanes, the routine is old hat.

“A lot of us residents are staying,” said Zolton, a 16-year resident of the Island. “We’ve been through Irma; we’ve been through Matthew. We know what we've got to do.”

As Hurricane Dorian began inching its way up East Coast, many residents and business owners from Hilton Head to Beaufort chose to hunker down and weather the storm, despite warnings of record-high storm surges and increased probability of tropical-force winds battering the area.

Major resorts in the tourist-heavy city were shut down, and security guards or Hilton Head police were guarding the majority of the entrances.

Mike Callaway, a Hilton Head resident for more than three decades, manages multiple properties on the island. He said all of his 26 tenants left in anticipation of the storm.

“No one’s here,” Callaway said. “Right now, I don’t feel too good about it. Hopefully it’s just some hurricane winds. But I’m staying optimistic.”

Dorian on Wednesday was inching its way up toward South Carolina at 8 mph — a fact that has kept other residents, like Andy Pracht, at ease.

He lives just a few blocks off the beach, where gray ocean waters were receding heavily early Wednesday morning.

Pracht has been in town since 1972. He said he didn’t go all out for preparation — no plywood or sandbags, just a few pieces of rope to tie down the outdoor furniture — and he felt like he had peace of mind.

“I’m not nervous, but I feel like I should be. I just haven’t seen anything that scares me yet,” Pracht said Wednesday.

Hilton Head, however, began making numerous preparations, including placing the city under a hurricane and storm surge warning. They also ordered the airport in town to be closed until the coast was out of Dorian’s path.

Beaufort County officials took similar precautions Wednesday.

Beaufort Memorial Hospital was closed and a mandatory curfew between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. was put into effect.

Similar to Hilton Head, Beaufort County officials urged residents to evacuate as soon as possible. But few have headed the warnings.

The number of people evacuating is "incredibly low," said Sheriff P.J. Tanner.

“This isn’t one of those events where you need to stick around for a hurricane party. This is a serious storm,” he said.

Beaufort County has nearly 300 National Guardsman in the area as they prepared for “more problems anticipated with storm surge than Irma or Matthew,” Tanner said. He added that the surge could be anywhere from 4 to 7 feet in parts of the county.

Hurricane Wire is a pop-up newsletter during hurricane season that delivers anyone who lives on the East Coast all the information they need to know as storms brew in the Atlantic and beyond.


The Sheriff’s Office has begged residents to take shelter at the nearby Jasper County storm shelter. Of the nearly 2,000 spaces available there, fewer than 200 have been filled.

Many residents and business owners referenced their ability to tough it out through past hurricanes, such as Matthew in 2016 or Irma in 2017, as a reason for sticking around through Dorian.

Despite acknowledging that a “direct hit could come right for” Beaufort, resident Dave Curtis was peacefully sipping his rum and coke at Luther’s Rare & Well Done bar and restaurant.

After going through Matthew, he said his 1930s-era house is “hurricane proof.” He said his five cats, one dog and the numerous ducks and geese that nest on his property are a primary reason to stay.

“I wouldn’t leave on a dare,” Curtis said. “And you couldn’t pay me to leave.”

Dorian is expected to bring heavy rain all down the South Carolina coast on Thursday.

As the hurricane began pushing a dangerous storm surge toward the Carolinas, Beaufort County Councilman Stewart Rodman said that looking back at Matthew isn’t a smart way for residents to decide if they should evacuate.

“Everyone I know who stayed for Matthew wishes they didn’t,” Rodman said.

Reach Thomas Novelly at 843-937-5715. Follow him @TomNovelly on Twitter. 

Thomas Novelly reports on crime, growth and development as well as military issues in Berkeley and Dorchester counties. Previously, he was a reporter at the Courier Journal in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a fan of Southern rock, bourbon and horse racing.