Hur­ri­cane’s blow was less than feared; ‘We are blessed’

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Bruce Smith and Russ Bynum

A weak­en­ing Hur­ri­cane Matthew lashed Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas on Satur­day in what ap­peared to be the last leg of its march up the East Coast, leav­ing in its wake mil­lions of Amer­i­cans re­lieved that one of the most fear­some storms on record in the U.S. wasn’t that bad after all.

The hur­ri­cane was blamed for at least 10 deaths in the U.S., in­clud­ing that of a 68-year-old Ge­or­gia man who died when two trees fell on his home. And hun­dreds were left dead in Matthew’s wake in Haiti.

By Satur­day night, North Carolina felt the brunt of Matthew, with more than a foot of rain fall­ing in the south­east­ern part of the state, caus­ing life-threat­en­ing flash flood­ing, fore­cast­ers said. Homes, busi­nesses and roads as far west as Raleigh were also dam­aged by the del­uge.

But in many places along the South­east coast, the dam­age con­sisted mostly of flooded streets, blown-down signs and awnings, flat­tened trees and power out­ages.

As the storm passed and the skies cleared, many peo­ple were al­ready clean­ing up, re­open­ing their busi­nesses or hit­ting the beach. The power started com­ing back on. And all three ma­jor theme parks in Or­lando, Florida, in­clud­ing Walt Dis­ney World, were up and run­ning.

“We are all blessed that Matthew stayed off our coast,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said. “We are blessed that we didn’t have a di­rect hit.”

On Satur­day, Matthew sideswiped two of the South’s old­est and most his­toric cities — Sa­van­nah, Ge­or­gia, and Charleston, South Carolina — and also brought tor­ren­tial rain and stiff wind to places like Myr­tle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilm­ing­ton, North Carolina.

From there, it was ex­pected to veer out to sea, lose steam and loop back around to­ward the Ba­hamas and Florida, too fee­ble to cause any trou­ble.

For nearly its en­tire run up the coast from Florida, Matthew hung just far enough off­shore that com­mu­ni­ties did not feel the full force of its winds. Its storm cen­ter, or eye, fi­nally blew ashore just north of Charleston on Satur­day, but only briefly. And by that time, Matthew was just barely a hur­ri­cane, with winds of just 75 mph.

Within an hour of res­i­dents be­ing al­lowed to re­turn Satur­day to Jacksonville Beach, Florida, David Vill­mow had fired up the two pizza ovens at his beach­front restau­rant, The Art of Pizza. He was hop­ing to start serv­ing cus­tomers in a few hours.

“We got re­ally lucky,” he said. “We could be look­ing at a whole lot worse. All you see are downed signs, downed fences, a few gas sta­tion sign let­ters miss­ing.”

Matthew’s deadly po­ten­tial was made all too clear in Haiti, where the hur­ri­cane roared ashore on Tues­day with ter­ri­fy­ing 145 mph winds. At least 470 peo­ple were re­ported dead in one hard-hit district alone, with other dev­as­tated ar­eas still un­reach­able four days later.

An es­ti­mated 2 mil­lion peo­ple in the South­east were or­dered to evac­u­ate their homes as Matthew closed in. By hug­ging the coast, the storm pretty much be­haved as fore­cast­ers pre­dicted. A shift of just 20 or 30 miles could have meant wide­spread dev­as­ta­tion.

“Peo­ple got in­cred­i­bly lucky,” Colorado State Uni­ver­sity me­te­o­rol­ogy pro­fes­sor Phil Klotzbach. “It was a su­per close call.” While Matthew’s wind speed had dropped con­sid­er­ably by the time it hit the South­east coast, the storm will still go down as one of the most po­tent hur­ri­canes on record, based on such fac­tors as wind en­ergy and longevity, and one of the most long-lived ma­jor hur­ri­canes, too.

It was a ma­jor hur­ri­cane — that is, with winds of at least 110 mph — for 7.25 days.

CHRIS O’MEARA—THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

In this aerial photo, por­tions of SR A1A are washed out from Hur­ri­cane Matthew, Satur­day in Fla­gler Beach, Fla.

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