The rains came, the ocean surged, and the Waffle Houses closed. As Hurricane Matthew curved along the southeastern coast this weekend, the wind and waves toppled trees and pummeled homes from Daytona Beach to Edisto Island to Wilmington and beyond. Even spots further inland were not immune—the deluge caused rivers to rise dangerously in North Carolina as far west as Raleigh and Lumberton. And as of this time nearly thirty lives were lost in the South, along with hundreds more in the Caribbean.
As morning crept across the Lowcountry on Sunday, though, Charlestonians discovered that the historic peninsula—Garden & Gun’s home base—largely had been spared. Minimal water and destruction, little loss of power. But before Matthew hit, Holy City residents—many with memories of storms past, from Hugo to the one that caused last fall’s flooding—weren’t taking chances. Thousands evacuated, windows were boarded, sand bags were stacked.
Local photographer Leigh Webber set out on foot to document the semi-abandoned town, starting at shuttered King Street and making her way down to the swamped Battery. “Without the cars and the people there,” she says, “it was a totally different Charleston.” Soon, her Instagram feed became inundated with evacuees eager for news; she even waded out in water up to her shorts to check on some of their homes. “I didn’t set out necessarily to do [a public service], but it inspired me to keep going,” Webber says.
Thankfully, the boards have come down and the city’s restaurants, hotels, and businesses are back in business. And there is more goodwill from Webber to come—she is selling four of her prints online, the proceeds of which will benefit the Historic Charleston Foundation and hurricane relief. In the meantime, you can see some of her images from the time just before and after the storm below.