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Hurricane Matthew Churns North Towards Georgia, Carolinas


Hurricane Matthew is hitting northeast Florida with high winds, heavy surf and a big storm surge. More than a million people are without power, and that number is growing as the storm moves north. The rain bands of Matthew have already moved into Georgia and South Carolina. NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell joins us from Savannah, Ga. Hi, there.


MCEVERS: So what is the major concern there right now?

BICHELL: Well, the huge worry is storm surge. That's generally the most damaging part of a hurricane in terms of lives lost, property damaged. And that happens when the high winds just sort of push water onto the coast. Right now, the National Hurricane Center has predicted that up to about 10 feet of seawater could flood coastal areas. So storm surge, that's a major reason why governors Nathan Deal in Georgia and Nikki Haley in South Carolina have ordered mandatory evacuation along their states' coasts, which hasn't happened in something like 17 years. At a press conference earlier today, Haley said her biggest concern was getting people off South Carolina's barrier islands.


NIKKI HALEY: We need people to move. The water that's going to come in is going to be dangerous. Daufuskie Island - we have 100 people on Daufuskie. You know of anybody on Daufuskie that is staying, it is going to be under water, so we have to get these people out.

BICHELL: And then there's also a real worry about power outages, flash floods and then fallen trees blocking the roads.

MCEVERS: And so how are people preparing? What are people doing?

BICHELL: Well, governors in Georgia and South Carolina started by ordering lane reversals on the highways leaving Charleston and Savannah so that people could just drive west so they wouldn't have traffic slowing people down as they exit. But now the storm's arriving in this area. So it's getting late for evacuation. People after this point will probably have to stay put where they are, and here in Savannah, there's a mandatory curfew from dusk to dawn. I heard the police say earlier that they'd arrest people found outside during that period.

There are also curfews in parts of coastal South Carolina that will start later tonight. And then earlier today in Savannah, I watched people board the last buses headed to Red Cross shelters further inland, and the Red Cross has somewhere between - like, around 2,000 people took advantage of those free rides. A lot of them were older folks and families with kids from what I could tell.

MCEVERS: And so how do things look in Savannah right now?

BICHELL: Well, the streets are pretty empty. The rain and wind are picking up. I was walking around earlier and saw that a lot of buildings were boarded up with plywood. But it is - it's just a really beautiful place. I mean, there's historic houses everywhere, these huge live oak trees with Spanish moss hanging down. The owner of a bike shop actually said that's what he's the most worried about is those big live oaks crashing down. Another resident, his name is John Duncan (ph). He was helping take flags down from outside of a friend's pub, and here's what he had to say about the storm.

JOHN DUNCAN: We're riding it out, yeah. I lived through David, then through Hugo and through Floyd. So it could get worse, but it doesn't look like it's going to be so bad. This is like vacation for us.

BICHELL: And then we even learned about a wedding. It was supposed to happen tomorrow, but the bride and groom are going to go through with it today with 30 or so people who could make it instead of the 150 that were invited. The caterer, officiant, venue - they all canceled. So they're just going to do it at the house, have a friend officiate and cook the food themselves.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell in Savannah, Ga. Thanks a lot.

BICHELL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.

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