South Carolina

‘I can’t get out:’ How a Hilton Head man got sandbagged in before Hurricane Dorian

Hilton Head banker calls for help after workers block the doors for Hurricane Dorian

The Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division responded to free the man from the Wells Fargo bank.
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The Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division responded to free the man from the Wells Fargo bank.

All that stood between Charlie Labassi and home on Sept. 4 was 1,250 pounds of sand.

Labassi, a treasury management consultant at Wells Fargo, was working at the bank branch near Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island’s south end when he realized he was trapped inside the building.

Not by floodwaters roaring outside.

Or a haphazard downed tree.

He was barricaded into the building by 25 stacked bags of play sand.

“I just went to leave to go home and somebody must have come in the interim and put sandbags all in front of the front door,” he said in his 911 call, which was obtained by The Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette newspapers. “I can’t get out.”

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On Sept. 4, 2019, Charlie Labassi, a Hilton Head Island Wells Fargo banker, called for help after sandbags trapped him and kept him from leaving the Sea Pines Circle branch as Hurricane Dorian lumbered in the Atlantic Ocean. Firefighters with the Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division responded and moved the bags, freeing Labassi. Katherine Kokal kkokal@islandpacket.com

Hilton Head Fire Rescue responded to the 911 call to remove the bags, which were stacked in piles outside the front and side doors of the building. It’s not clear how long Labassi was stuck inside the building before he called 911.

Labassi, who remained calm on the phone, offered to help.

“I just need someone to move the bags,” he told the 911 operator. “I’ll move them back after the officers come let me out so he doesn’t have to do double lifting.”

When the 911 call ended, Labassi said he was standing near the front door waiting to be rescued.

“I really would like to get home before the storm,” he politely told the operator. Labassi said he lives in Shipyard Plantation.

Beaufort County saw effects of Hurricane Dorian beginning later that evening. Winds measuring 67 mph whipped over the island, and about 87 downed trees blocked roads throughout the county.

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Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division work to remove a downed tree from a road in Hilton Head Plantation during Hurricane Dorian on Thursday, September 5, 2019 in Hilton Head Island, SC. Jeff Siner jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Wells Fargo declined to allow Labassi or the branch manager speak to The Island Packet about the 911 call, but issued the following statement:

“The safety of Wells Fargo’s team members and customers is our highest priority. We monitored Hurricane Dorian closely and made the decision to close and put sandbags in front of the doors at the Sea Pines branch to coincide with the evacuation order for Beaufort County,” according to Amy Amirault, a senior corporate communications consultant with Wells Fargo.

At least Labassi can be assured of one thing: His fellow employees are well-prepared for hurricane season.

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Katherine Kokal moved to South Carolina in 2018 after graduating from the University of Missouri and loves everything about the Lowcountry that isn’t a Palmetto Bug. She has won South Carolina Press Association awards for in-depth and government beat reporting. On the weekends, you can find Kati doing yoga and hiking Pinckney Island.
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