Deadly Matthew sideswipes Fla.
Death toll at 4 in U.S., over 300 in Haiti as hurricane grinds way to Ga.
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Hurricane Matthew spared Florida’s most heavily populated stretch from a catastrophic blow Friday but threatened some of the South’s most historic and picturesque cities with ruinous flooding and wind damage as it pushed its way up the coastline.
Among the cities in the crosshairs were St. Augustine, Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C.
“There are houses that will probably not ever be the same again or not even be there,” St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver lamented as battleship-gray f l oodwaters coursed through the streets of the 451-year-old city founded by the Spanish.
Matthew — the most powerful hurricane to threaten the Atlantic Seaboard in over a decade — set off alarms in the U.S., having left more than 300 people dead in Haiti.
The death toll was expected to rise in Haiti as aid teams reached areas cut off by washed-out bridges or fallen trees.
“Devastation is everywhere,” said Pilus Enor, mayor of Camp Perrin, a Haitian town near the port city of Les Cayes. “Every house has lost its roof.”
In the U.S., Matthew sideswiped Florida’s Atlantic coast early Friday, swamping streets, toppling trees onto homes and knocking out power to more than 1.1 million peo- Micah Beemon, left, chats with a neighbor after winds snapped a large tree in his yard Friday in Daytona Beach, Fla. ple. But it stayed just far enough offshore to prevent major damage to cities like Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. And the coast never felt the full force of its 120 mph winds.
“It looks like we’ve dodged a bullet,” said Rep. Patrick Murphy, whose dist rict i ncludes Martin County, just north of West Palm Beach.
Four people died in Florida. One woman was killed when a tree fell on her house in the Daytona area and another woman died when a tree came down on a camper in Putnam County. St. Lucie County authorities say an elderly couple appears to have died from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator.
While the hurricane was weakening quickly, several northeastern Florida cities, including Jacksonville, were still in harm’s way, along with communities farther up the coast. Authorities warned that not only could Matthew easily turn toward land, it could also cause deadly flooding with its surge of seawater.
The storm gouged out large sections of the coastal A1A highway north of Daytona Beach, and had nearly completely washed out the northbound lane for about a mile at Flagler Beach.
“It’s pretty bad; it’s jagged all over the place,” said Oliver Shields, whose twostory house is within sight of the highway.
About 500,000 people were under evacuation orders in the Jacksonville area, along with a halfmillion on the Georgia coast. More than 300,000 fled their homes in South Carolina. The latest forecast showed the storm could also scrape North Carolina.
“If you’re hoping it’s just going to pass far enough offshore that this isn’t a problem anymore — that is a very, very big mistake that you could make that could cost you your life,” National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb warned.
St. Augustine, which is the nation’s oldest permanently occupied European settlement and includes a 17th-century Spanish fortress and many historic homes turned into bed-andbreakfasts, was awash in rain and seawater that authorities said could top 8 feet.
“It’s a really serious devastating situation,” the mayor of the city of 14,000 said. “The flooding is just going to get higher and higher and higher.”
Downtown Charleston, usually bustling with tourists who flock to see the city’s antebellum homes, was eerily quiet, with many stores and shops boarded up with plywood and protected by sandbags.
The city announced a midnight-to-6 a.m. curfew Saturday, around the time the coast was expected to take the brunt of the storm.
Matthew’s outer bands began lashing Savannah, a city that was settled in 1733 and has a historic district of moss-draped trees, brick and cobblestone streets, Greek revival mansions and other 18th- and 19th-century homes.
Matthew was expected to bring winds of 50 to 60 mph that could snap branches from the burly live oaks and damage the his- toric homes. And 8 to 14 inches of rain could bring some street flooding.
Steve Todd, who stayed on a Georgia island to ride out Matthew, said “trees are bending over” and it’s “raining sideways” as the storm approached.
Todd said he and a friend ventured out in a truck after dark Friday to pick up a couple of buddies who had become frightened of rapidly worsening conditions on Tybee Island. He said they were all going back to his third-floor condominium to spend the night.
Local officials ordered a mandatory evacuation for Tybee on Wednesday, but some residents insisted on staying put. Todd said he doesn’t regret his decision, “but I’m not going to lie. There’s a little bit of nervous tension right now.”