Hurricane Matthew, downgraded to Category 2 by NOAA, pushes north

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Hurricane Matthew has weakened slightly as it pounds Florida and crawls north along the Atlantic coast. (WLS)

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.
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"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.



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 bed-and-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.

Sonja Wallen, a curator, said antique rugs and furniture were moved away from the home's more than 40 windows, many of them still with their original8glass. Windows were fitted with plywood and other coverings, while sandbags were stacked at the basement entrance.

"It's basically a lot of little details - sandbags and duct tape around doorways where water can get in," Wallen said. "It's pretty much the same stuff you would do for any home."

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 9 p.m. EDT, Matthew was centered about 50 miles southeast of St. Simons Island, Georgia, and 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.

Airlines canceled at least 5,000 flights Wednesday through Saturday, including many in and out of Orlando, where all three of the resort city's world-famous theme parks - Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld - closed because of the storm.

But things began getting back to normal, with flights resuming in Miami and other South Florida airports.

In areas the storm had already passed, residents and officials began to assess the damage.

Robert Tyler had feared the storm surge would flood his street two blocks from the Cape Canaveral beach. Tree branches fell, he could hear transformers exploding overnight, and the windows seemed as if they were about to blow in, despite the plywood over them.

But in the morning, there wasn't much water, his home didn't appear to be damaged on first inspection, and his vehicles were unharmed.

"Overnight, it was scary as heck," Tyler said. "That description of a freight train is pretty accurate."

FIRST AID EFFORTS COMEF ROM ALL OVER

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Chicago area aid organizations are mobilizing to help deliver hurricane relief where it is needed.



The American Red Cross set up a disaster relief effort for those impacted by Hurricane Matthew. Dave Boyles and Mike Landt are on one of several American Red Cross relief teams ready to help.

"They want to start their recovery and it's a very slow process especially with a big event like this," Boyles said.

They will soon be driving down to Florida so they can meet up with local relief efforts and then be deployed wherever they're needed.

"We may not be taking anything down there now because the situation when we get there in 16 hours could be very different than the way it is now," Landt said.

The aid organization joins a host of other groups here in the Chicago area gearing up to send disaster relief to the Southeast and other areas affected by hurricane Matthew. Although the monster storm didn't deliver the catastrophic punch to Florida's coast, the danger isn't over. Some who chose to ride it out are still stranded and have no power.

Alexandra Dalton, the daughter of ABC7 photographer Kevin Dalton, talked about the devastation she witnessed firsthand in Port Orange, Fla.

Alexandra Dalton, the daughter of ABC7 photographer Kevin Dalton, shared this photo of Hurricane Matthew's damage in Port Orange, Fla.



"We had just seen a pretty big tree completely uprooted and fall into the front yard. But then we went outside and, honestly, I can't describe how windy it was. The wind was just roaring," Dalton said.

While the massive weather system may have only sideswiped the southeast, it left a path of death and destruction in Haiti, where the Lutheran Church Charities have already sent aid. Arrangements for shipments of food, water, and medical and construction supplies are already in the works.

AT&T customers who would like to help out can text MATTHEW to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

The charge will appear on the customer's bill or be deducted from their prepaid balance. To find out more, read the full terms of service HERE.

CARIBBEAN DEVASTATION COMES INTO FOCUS



Meanwhile, the magnitude of the devastation inflicted by Matthew as it roared through the Caribbean became ever clearer, with officials in Haiti raising the death toll there to nearly 300, while also cautioning that there were scores of bodies that had yet to be recorded.

In Florida, Matthew was downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane overnight, and its storm center, or eye, hung just offshore Friday morning as it moved up the coastline, sparing communities the full force of its 120 mph winds.
Still, it got close enough to knock down trees and power lines, damage buildings and flood streets.

In historic St. Augustine, Florida, the downtown district was impassable by noon, with a combination of seawater and rainwater. A giant oak limb had fallen in an old cemetery, and the power started going out in some neighborhoods as transformers exploded.

On Georgia's Tybee Island, where most of the 3,000 residents were evacuated, Jeff Dickey had been holding out hope that the storm might shift and spare his home. 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."

In areas the storm had already passed, residents and officials began to assess the damage.

Robert Tyler had feared the storm surge would flood his street two blocks from the Cape Canaveral beach. Tree branches fell, he could hear transformers exploding overnight, and the windows seemed as if they were about to blow in, despite the plywood over them.

But in the morning, there wasn't much water, his home didn't appear to have damage on first inspection, and his vehicles were unharmed.

"Overnight, it was scary as heck," Tyler said. "That description of a freight train is pretty accurate."

As the storm closed in over the past few days, an estimated 2 million people across the Southeast were warned to clear out.

In the end, Matthew largely skirted the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Palm Beach area of over 6 million people and hugged closer to the coast farther north, menacing such cities as Vero Beach, Daytona Beach, Cape Canaveral, St. Augustine and Jacksonville. Farther north, it threatened such historic cities as Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.

At 12 p.m. EDT, Matthew was centered about 30 miles northeast of Daytona Beach and about 90 miles southeast of Jacksonville. Its wind speed was holding steady at 120 mph, and it was moving northwest at 12 mph.

About 500,000 people were told to evacuate the Jacksonville area, and another half-million were under orders to clear out in Georgia.
Forecasters said 15 inches of rain and a storm surge of up to 9 feet were possible in places.

National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb reminded people in the danger zone that storm surge is the biggest threat to life during a hurricane, even when the eye remains offshore.

"If you're hoping it's is 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," he said.

Airlines canceled at least 4,500 flights Wednesday through Saturday, including many in and out of Orlando, where all three of the resort city's world-famous theme parks - Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld - closed because of the storm.

Airports in South Florida began returning to normal, however, with American Airlines seeing its first arrival at its Miami hub at 9:05 a.m.

Despite the warnings to leave, many hunkered down Thursday night and hoped for the best.

The door to Darrell Etheridge's garage was blown off, but the Vero Beach resident said the storm was no big deal. There was no flooding and he had power for most of the night, only losing cable TV.

While the wind's howling "sounded like a pack of wolves," he said, "I got off damn good."

Sheriff's spokesman Gary Davidson said at least four callers reported trees falling onto their homes in the Daytona Beach area. No injuries were reported.

Some people who refused to evacuate were stranded and called for help but were told to stay put until conditions improved enough for paramedics and firefighters to get to them, said emergency operations spokesman David Waters in Brevard County, the home of Cape Canaveral.

"A family called in that the roof just flew off their home on Merritt Island," Waters said.

NASA reported mostly minor damage at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, including damage to some parked cars and an office building roof.

WLS-TV contributed to this report.
Related Topics:
weatherhurricaneu.s. & worldweathertropical stormsevere weatherwindrainFlorida
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