Hurricane Matthew brings damage along Atlantic coast

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Rain batters homes as the eye of Hurricane Matthew passes Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 7, 2016.  REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack/File Photo - RTSR9TR

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WILLIAM BRANGHAM, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: In Florida’s largest city, Jacksonville, half a million people remain under evacuation orders. Matthew’s storm surge caused massive flooding there yesterday, which only got worse today.

“NewsHour” weekend anchor Hari Sreenivasan is 40 miles south of Jacksonville, in St. Augustine, and has been following the path of the storm.

HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR ANCHOR: In Orlando, Florida, we met Dave Floyd (ph) who rode out Hurricane Matthew with his family and pets in a hotel. Floyd is a landlord, and after the storm passed yesterday, he headed to Titusville, about 40 miles east, near the Atlantic coast. A tenant had told him about massive leaks in one of the townhouses he owns.

Floyd arrived to find the storm had ripped up part of the flat roof, and water was pouring into the house.

Star Preston (ph) lived in the house with her husband and three kids.

STAR PRESTON, TENANT: We’re out of the house. What am I going to do?

SREENIVASAN: Floyd has already submitted an insurance claim on the house, but he thinks it will likely be weeks before the house is habitable again. In the meantime, he’s trying to arrange temporary housing for his tenant through FEMA or the Red Cross.

DAVE FLOYD, LANDLORD: My first concern was to find these people a place to stay. And that’s my obligation as a landlord, to provide them with some kind of housing or short term accommodations until my insurance company can get out here and assess the damage.

SREENIVASAN: Last night, Preston and her family were able to stay with her sister who lives nearby. But now, she doesn’t know where they’ll go next.

From Titusville, we headed about an hour up the Florida coast to Ormond Beach, where wind more than water was the biggest threat to property.

People probably moved here for this nice tree-lined street, and now this canopy of beautiful trees is a liability.

We found Debbie Mohn (ph), a nurse who just came back from a three- day shift at the hospital to find the oak tree that had stood on her property for decades split in two — half in the street, the other half leaning now on her roof.

DEBBIE MOHN, NURSE: You like my tree house?

SREENIVASAN: You’ve got a sense of humor about it. What went through your mind when you saw it?

MOHN: I didn’t want to look at this. I parked over there and then went over to see if I could see daylight through my roof because my husband didn’t want to tell me everything. But he said we’re OK. So, wind instead of water. I’ll take that because water, we could be Louisiana right now.

SREENIVASAN: Her husband rode out the storm in their house with their two dogs. The couple plans to stay there while they wait for the power and water to come back on.

BRANGHAM: And Hari joins me now from St. Augustine. Hari, we saw the people in your piece starting to reckon with the damage to their homes and their property. What’s it like where you are now?

SREENIVASAN: So, we went to one section of St. Augustine where we saw some people that were trying to dry out their houses. They probably had 10, 14 inches of water. That is nothing compared to another section just about two miles away called Vilano Beach. That area is still closed off because there’s probably three to four feet of standing water, according to some of the reads who tried to ride out the storm.

I mean, that area has been declared catastrophic. There are homes that have kind of collapsed on to each other. The island was sort of surrounded by water, so the inlet actually created kind of a back-slog, if you will. So, this is an area that is to have to take several days to try to literally pump the water out of their homes and dry out.

BRANGHAM: Are you seeing any evidence of rescue efforts? Are you seeing FEMA or the Red Cross? What does the recovery effort look like where you are?

SREENIVASAN: So, there have been Red Cross shelters that have been set up, up and down the coast. You know, one of the ironies is today, glorious sunny day, tomorrow is also going to be the same. So, the people who are staying in these shelters during the day, they’re just anxious to try to get back into their homes, especially if it was in those areas that’s been sealed off. So they want to get there. And, of course, the authorities tonight want to let them back in.

Right now, there’s no power. There are still power lines down. There’s no water. That has been turned off. So, basic infrastructure isn’t there to let these people back in.

It’s a long, slow phase-back. And, you know, the recovery efforts, this is how long it takes to get through. But I don’t think anybody expected as much of the coastline to be hit by one single hurricane.

BRANGHAM: I mean, obviously, as you’re describe it, as the pictures we’ve been seeing, they’re showing incredible damage and there’s been some loss of life there, but this was predicted to be much worse. Is there any sense from people you’ve been talking to that they might have dodged a much bigger bullet?

SREENIVASAN: Yes. You know, everybody around here was watching all the local news channels and when that 11:00 forecast came in and they said, “The eye of this storm is about nine to 15 miles further away from the coast,” that was a huge sigh of relief because if in those nine or 10 miles, you had 120, 130-mile-per-hour winds and if that was even closer to the coast, that means everywhere I’m standing now would have been under serious hurricane category three-type winds.

Fortunately, for this area, even as bad as it was, it could have been much worse, and most of the people coming back to their homes right now, they’re thankful that they have their health. They’re thankful that they have their families and they do think they dodged a bullet as difficult as it may be to recover from this.

BRANGHAM: All right. Hari Sreenivasan from St. Augustine, Florida — thanks very much.

SREENIVASAN: Thanks, William.

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