Storm brings damage, but not devastation
More than 1 million people lose electricity in Florida; Ga., Carolinas still at risk
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.
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.