SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – One family, living in Savannah when Hurricane Matthew hit, knows firsthand the dangers of ignoring an evacuation order.
Jeff Davis, an Army Ranger, stayed during the storm and was hit and killed by a tree while in his own home.
Almost three years later, his decision still affects his wife and two children every day.
“I kind of get panic-stricken anytime I load my kids up in the car, and we leave to go somewhere,” explained JC Davis. “I honestly don’t know if I’m going to see my house again because that’s exactly what happened. We left, we evacuated and never stepped foot in that house again.”
JC Davis says her husband grew up in a small desert community in California and didn’t know the destruction hurricanes could do. She says he chose to stay to protect their house.
“He told me he’d been in a helicopter crash…and those things didn’t kill him and a storm wasn’t going to kill him,” Davis explained.
But when she didn’t hear from her husband for almost a full day, Davis got worried.
“I keep texting and calling Jeff and pleading with him saying, ‘You still have time, you still have time,’” she remembered.
Davis called on one of her neighbors to check on the house for her.
“My neighbors walked back there with me on the phone and said, ‘Oh God. We will have to call you back,’” she said. “They called me and say, ‘The sheriff is here, and we need to tell you that he’s in there, we don’t know if he’s alive or dead.’”
Even as she dealt with the terrible news, Davis had to try to pull herself together long enough to tell her kids, who were just 6 and 2 years old at the time.
“My son who is wise beyond his years asked me what was wrong, and I told him. How else do you tell them they’ve lost your father? They’ve lost their house?” she questioned.
“Try to explain to your children why he chose stuff over being in their lives,” Davis added. “A kid shouldn’t have to be put through that.”
Davis said her husband didn’t have life insurance or a will. They never talked about funeral arrangements.
“Jeff was concerned about looting and the irony of it was people still looted the house after he passed, because the house was wide open,” she said. “So the very thing he was worried about ended up happening anyway.”
Davis said the second year after her husband’s passing was more difficult than the first.
“You have the time to be stuck in your thoughts. The why. Why did he do this? Why didn’t he do this?” she explained.
As Davis dealt with her loss, she faced another storm — Irma.
“I just remember being in my kitchen in Savannah unable to move, being frozen, pleading on Facebook for someone to help me pack, so we can evacuate,” she remembered.
It’s a fear that hasn’t gone away.
“Charleston had a bad thunderstorm a couple of weeks ago. I’m just panic-stricken. The wind blew open the door and scared the mess out of me,” she explained. “My thoughts now almost always go to what if this causes someone to die.”
Davis says her tragedy is difficult but valuable.
“I’ve had people send me private messages saying, ‘Thank you so much for sharing…because your story was what convinced my father-in-law to leave,’” she says.
Davis is still in therapy, as is her son, who was only 6 years old when his father died.
Her daughter is four. After her father’s death, she lost her speech for some time.
But Davis says the family is doing better now. She has remarried and lives in Charleston, starting a new life.
“I don’t want people to think that I’ve moved on. Its always going to be with me,” she adds. “But I’ve definitely chosen to move forward and try to turn a negative into the most positive way I can.”
Davis hopes that by telling her family’s story, reliving that pain, that someone else will leave the next time a storm comes.