PAWLEYS ISLAND, S.C. — On Monday, as Hurricane Ian approached Florida’s Tampa Bay region, Cullen Moorhead was feeling relieved.

A student pilot at a flight school in nearby Clearwater, Florida, Moorhead, 20, had been instructed to help move the school’s planes out of harm’s way. So at 7 a.m. he loaded his parents and their treasured possessions into a cramped Cessna at the airport there and flew them four hours northeast to Georgetown, South Carolina, near the oceanside sand spit of Pawleys Island, where his grandmother has a house.

There, far from the predicted destruction, he thought they would be safe.

Until they weren’t.

“You’re watching your hometowns be destroyed,” Moorhead said, recounting the footage from Florida. “Everyone you know is just in devastation.”

At the time, he thought the storm was expected to weaken and head toward Georgia. Then the forecast changed.

“Then you’re like, ‘That kind of looks like it’s headed toward me,’” he said.


On Friday morning, the vortex of wind, rain and roaring waves that the Moorheads had been trying to escape made landfall in South Carolina, just miles from Pawleys Island, flooding the vacation destination. Waves over 7 feet crashed into their waterfront home. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay area seemed to have escaped the worst of what had been forecast.

“How on Earth can you be so lucky?” Moorhead wondered sarcastically as he stood in the rain Friday afternoon. “We were safe and going to be coming home today. Nope.”

He said some of his friends at the University of South Florida, where he is a student, had teased him for fleeing the storm. Their amusement grew when he posted a video on Instagram of floodwater rising up the stilts of the South Carolina house: It was karma for leaving, they joked.

But no one was laughing. With his grandmother out of state, Moorhead and his parents bolted the windows and watched the water rise until it flooded the ground floor of the house. He and his father had to wade waist deep to stop the propane tank from floating away. Worst of all, mementos of his grandfather, who died several weeks ago, were damaged or lost in the flood.

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“My mom is devastated,” Moorhead said. “Everything of my grandpa’s is just floating in water.”


The plane, at least, was safe, stored at an airport 15 miles away.

Moorhead has been enamored with aviation since he was a child. When he won a scholarship that gave him full college tuition, the money his family had saved up went to flight school instead, and he has been flying for nearly two years. He viewed flying as fun and a way to escape from reality. Except this time.

“Of all the places flying has taken me so far,” he said, “I never thought it’d lead me right into the path of a hurricane.”