'I ride it out.' When a hurricane comes roaring up the East Coast, one community stays put

·3 min read

When hurricanes and severe storms strike the East Coast, they often batter coastlines, displace famous landmarks and even move whole populations away forever. But there are some groups of people along the South Carolina and Georgia coast, such as on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, that have not only endured centuries of storms, but some of them have never budged, even when everyone around them scatters.

"I ride it out and I ride every one out," Francis Major, a St. Helena Island resident, told AccuWeather National Reporter Dexter Henry. "I ain't never left."

Francis Major, a resident of St. Helena Island for 71 years, talks about what it has been like to stay put during major storms. (AccuWeather/ Dexter Henry)

Major has lived on St. Helena Island for 71 years as a member of the Gullah community, a group of African Americans with deep cultural roots who live along the coast in South Carolina and Georgia. When major storms, like hurricanes, come through, many members of the communities make the decision to stay put.

While they do trust and keep an eye on forecasts from meteorologists, it's the wisdom and experience from their elders in the community that they rely on. When residents decide to stay put through a storm, it's often as a group or family. Some stay to protect their land and the livestock they care for.

"The elders have that wisdom," Donellia Chives, who lives in Port Royal, South Carolina, told Henry. "They have that wisdom of holding out for those storms for so many decades and generations. So, a lot of times they have that wisdom on their side where they know."

St. Helena Island is home to a community of Gullah people, who have lived in the region for centuries. (AccuWeather/ Dexter Henry)

The Gullah people and their language are also called the Geechee. The modern-day Gullah formulated following the emancipation of slavery, when members of the community stayed isolated and united within their heritage. Along with having specific customs, a unique language and a rich history, the history of Gullah families staying is intertwined with traditional customs and distrust.

"One of the reasons I stay is cause when you go you can't get back cause they build a wall before you can get back in," Ben Johnson told Henry.

Chives also pointed to the history of African Americans being displaced in the region and the outcome of Louisiana residents following Hurricane Katrina as reasons why some stay put.

"If we think about New Orleans, case and point, a lot of people had to leave New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina," Chives said. "Those people did not come back or could not come back for whatever reason, lost their land. People are waiting for the Gullah-Geechee land to become available so they can come and swipe it. That's a reality."

St. Helena Island is home to a community of Gullah people, who have lived in the region for centuries. (AccuWeather/ Dexter Henry)

Ifetayo White, a St. Helena Island resident, also mentioned that the community she lives with has a strong awareness of the environment and local weather, as their connection to the environment and togetherness empowers them.

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According to White, that connection with the environment is like a sixth sense about nature that the Gullah community has.

"Always a sense of strength, a sense of unity, a sense of community," Chives said about the Gullah people. "Just that overall wisdom from those that rode the storms out before we were even here. So, if they survived, we can, too."

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