Storm brings dam­age, but not dev­as­ta­tion

More than 1 mil­lion peo­ple lose elec­tric­ity in Florida; Ga., Caroli­nas still at risk

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

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, Fla., 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 bat­tle­shipgray flood­wa­ters 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 alarm as it closed in on the U.S., hav­ing left more than 300 peo­ple dead in Haiti.

In the end, it sideswiped Florida’s At­lantic coast early Fri­day, swamp­ing streets, top­pling trees onto homes and knock­ing out power to more than 1 mil­lion peo­ple. 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 winds be­cause the cen­ter

of the storm stayed just off­shore.

“It looks like we’ve dodged a bul­let,” said U.S. Rep. Pa­trick Mur­phy, a Demo­crat whose district in­cludes Martin County, just north of West Palm Beach.

Two women died in sep­a­rate events in Florida. One was killed when a tree fell on her house in the Day­tona area and the other died when a tree came down on a camper in Put­nam County. A man was also hurt in that in­stance.

While the hur­ri­cane was weak­en­ing quickly, sev­eral north­east­ern Florida cities, in­clud­ing Jacksonville, still were in harm’s way, along with com­mu­ni­ties far­ther up the coast. Au­thor­i­ties warned that not only could Matthew eas­ily turn to­ward land, it also could

cause deadly flood­ing with its surge of sea­wa­ter.

About 500,000 peo­ple were un­der evac­u­a­tion or­ders in the Jacksonville area, along with an­other half-mil­lion on the Ge­or­gia coast. More than 300,000 fled their homes in South Carolina. The lat­est fore­cast Fri­day evening showed the storm also could scrape the North Carolina coast.

“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 be­dand-break­fasts, 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.”

His­toric down­town Charleston, usu­ally bustling with tourists who flock to see the city’s beau­ti­fully main­tained an­te­bel­lum homes, was eerily quiet, with many stores and shops boarded up with ply­wood and pro­tected by stacks of sand­bags.

Matthew’s outer bands be­gan lash­ing Sa­van­nah, a city that was set­tled in 1733 and has a handsome his­toric district of moss­draped

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 his­toric homes. And 8 to 14 inches of rain could bring some street flood­ing.

Some of Ge­or­gia’s re­sort is­lands were ex­pected to take the brunt of Matthew’s storm surge, in­clud­ing St. Si­mons and Ty­bee.

On Ty­bee Is­land, where most of the 3,000 res­i­dents were evac­u­ated, Jeff Dickey held out hope that the storm might shift and spare his home. But as the rain picked up, he de­cided stay­ing wasn’t worth the risk.

“We kind of tried to wait to see if it will tilt more to the east,” Dickey said. “But it’s go time.”

Mayor Ja­son Buel­ter­man per­son­ally called some of the hold­outs, hop­ing to per­suade them to move in­land.

“This is what hap­pens when you don’t have a hur­ri­cane for 100 years,” he said. “Peo­ple get com­pla­cent.”

At 6 p.m. EDT, Matthew was a Cat­e­gory 2 storm — down from a peak of Cat­e­gory 5 long be­fore it reached Florida — and was cen­tered about 40 miles east of Jacksonville Beach and 135 miles south of Sa­van­nah.

It was mov­ing north at 12 mph. Its wind speed had dropped to 110 mph, down from a ter­ri­fy­ing 145 mph when it smashed into Haiti.

DOU­GLAS R. CLIF­FORD — TAMPA BAY TIMES (VIA AP)

Kaleigh Black, 14, left, and Am­ber Olsen, 12, run for cover Fri­day as a rain squall from Hur­ri­cane Matthew pelts them be­neath an At­lantic Ocean pier in Co­coa Beach, Fla.

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