At Least 2 Dead In Florida As Hurricane Matthew Moves North

Oct 7, 2016
Originally published on October 17, 2016 6:19 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

There are now hurricane warnings extending up the U.S. Atlantic Coast from Florida to North Carolina. Hurricane Matthew was downgraded earlier in the evening to a Category 2 storm, but it is still incredibly powerful. It left the southwestern part of Haiti devastated. Hundreds of people have been killed there. President Obama is urging people in the storm's path in the U.S. to take the threat seriously.

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BARACK OBAMA: I just want to emphasize to everybody that this is still a really dangerous hurricane, that the potential for storm surge flooding, loss of life and severe property damage continues to exist.

MCEVERS: We're going to go to NPR's Debbie Elliott, who is in Jacksonville, Fla. Hi there, Debbie.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Hi there.

MCEVERS: So we know that the eye of this hurricane is now just off of the Georgia coast. But what are the conditions like where you are in Florida?

ELLIOTT: I'm here in Jacksonville in downtown, and tropical storm conditions persist even though the eye of the storm has moved a little bit to the north of us. There are big gusts of winds, horizontal rain still blowing. There's some minor flooding here in town, but conditions are much more severe out along the beach areas. In historic St. Augustine, for example, waves have crashed over roads. Buildings are flooded. Someone in a high-rise condo on Jacksonville Beach captured this remarkable video that shows water just rushing in from the Atlantic and turning the roads there into rivers.

MCEVERS: What have been the biggest problems so far?

ELLIOTT: Well, at least two people are reported to have been killed in the storm, both of them from uprooted trees that fell on them. More than a million customers lost power. And then in Flagler County, the storm surge was so strong there it completely washed away this big chunk of a key beach road, forcing emergency rescues of the people who didn't evacuate there.

MCEVERS: Heading into the rest of the evening and overnight, what are Florida officials worried about most?

ELLIOTT: Well, the water. This giant storm has been pushing water ashore for hours, coinciding with high tide in some places. You know, that's not only destructive, like the road washout I was talking about, but it also means that the backwaters will fill and the waters inland will rise major. Major, even historic, flooding is anticipated, and it could remain an issue for several days to come, especially near the St. John's River in and around Jacksonville. Here's Florida Governor Rick Scott.

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RICK SCOTT: We're going to have a lot of flooding. The storm surge is going to be staggering. The waves are going to be staggering.

ELLIOTT: So it's dark now. It will take morning light before crews can get out and really assess just how widespread the flooding is both here in Florida and then on the vulnerable barrier islands off the Georgia coast. I think St. Simons, Jekyll Island, even the port city of Savannah's getting hit.

MCEVERS: We played that clip of President Obama in the introduction, and he was emphasizing the threat after his briefing today with FEMA. What is the federal role in the response to all this?

ELLIOTT: Well, right now, it's in support of the governors who have gotten their disaster declarations - Florida, Georgia and both of the Carolinas. Florida Governor Rick Scott says he is asking for some very, very specific help from the federal government. Here's his list.

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SCOTT: Food, water, tarps, generators, water pumps, search-and-rescue teams, hazmat-assessment teams, cots, blankets, food distribution vehicles, helicopters. At this time, they are supporting all of our requests.

MCEVERS: That was Florida Governor Rick Scott. And we have been talking to NPR's Debbie Elliott in Jacksonville, Fla. Thank you very much.

ELLIOTT: Thank you, Kelly. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.