Hur­ri­cane threat­ens some of South’s most sto­ried cities

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS -

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, Florida; Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia; and Charleston, South Carolina.

“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 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 120 mph winds.

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

At least four peo­ple died in Florida. An el­derly St. Lu­cie County cou­ple died from car­bon monox­ide fumes while run­ning a gen­er­a­tor in their garage and two women were killed in sep­a­rate events when trees fell on a home and a camper.

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 sev­eral 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 an­other half-mil­lion on the Ge­or­gia coast. More than 300,000 fled their homes in South Carolina. The lat­est fore­cast showed the storm could also 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.

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

Sa­van­nah-Chatham County Po­lice Chief Jack Lump­kin said of­fi­cers will en­force a dusk-un­til-dawn cur­few.

A small crew of work­ers Thurs­day set out to but­ton up the Owens-Thomas house, one of Sa­van­nah’s ar­chi­tec­tural gems. The 1819 Greek re­vival man­sion serves as a mu­seum.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

An of­fi­cial ve­hi­cle nav­i­gates de­bris as it passes along High­way A1A af­ter it was par­tially washed away by Hur­ri­cane Matthew on Fri­day in Fla­gler Beach, Fla.

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