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Hurricane Matthew Cuts Destructive Path Along Florida's East Coast


Hurricane Matthew has lost some strength. It is now a Category 2 storm. But it's still very powerful, with sustained winds of more than 100 miles per hour. It has already devastated Haiti, killed hundreds of people. And today, it's cut a destructive path up Florida's east coast and is affecting Georgia and the Carolinas. President Obama is urging people to take the threat seriously.


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 now to NPR's Debbie Elliott, who is in Jacksonville, Fla. Hi there, Debbie.


MCEVERS: So what is it like where you are?

ELLIOTT: Well, I'm in downtown Jacksonville, like you said. I'm on a peninsula that's surrounded by the St. Johns River. We don't have much flooding now, but there is some serious wind coming in in gusts. There is a lot of horizontal rain coming down very heavily.

It's a ghost town. Nothing is happening in downtown Jacksonville. Businesses are closed. There's no one on the road. Schools are closed. There's a mandatory evacuation here. There's some minor flooding along the river and - but nothing like you would see if you headed over the bridge, which you can't because it's closed, but if you headed out to the beaches.

In historic St. Augustine, waves have been crashing over the roads from the Atlantic. Buildings are flooded. Someone in a high-rise condo on Jacksonville Beach captured this remarkable video a little while ago of water rushing in from the Atlantic, turning the roads into rivers there.

MCEVERS: What is the biggest threat? I mean, what could happen there?

ELLIOTT: Well, just that - water. This storm is coming to this part of Florida right at high tide. The storm surge can be up to 10 feet, forecasters say in some areas. And that's just a destructive wall of water that's going to come ashore and cause problems. Major, even historic, flooding is expected, and that's what has Jacksonville mayor Lenny Curry the most worried.


LENNY CURRY: So the message is now, as we ride this thing out, a life-threatening storm surge is still expected.

ELLIOTT: Now, expected here and also as Matthew continues its march up the southeast coast. Water is piling up in front of this big storm. It's going to do serious damage to Georgia barrier islands, think about St. Simons, Jekyll. The port of Savannah has been closed down because of this. Of course, there's also the heavy rain and wind that cause problems. You know, trees are being uprooted, power lines are coming down. It's just generally unsafe to be in the coastal area of this region right now.

MCEVERS: Yeah, and as we said, I mean, the hurricane swiped through some of South Florida already this morning. What else do you know about the damage there and the response?

ELLIOTT: Well, the responders are trying to figure out what the damage is now. Search and rescue and damage assessment teams are out in places like Vero Beach, Daytona, Cape Canaveral.

We do know that the good news is the eye of the storm was just offshore, so initial, you know, fears that this was going to be a major hit to a major population area in South Florida didn't happen. The Kennedy Space Center escaped major damage, for instance.

Still, you've got a million customers without power. Hundreds of thousands of people are in shelters, and now they're just waiting for crews to clear roads and fix the power lines so they can go home and see what they're confronted with.

MCEVERS: And finally, I mean, looking at the National Hurricane Center forecasting, it looks like Matthew might not be done in Florida. Is that what you're hearing?

ELLIOTT: Right, they say it's going to hug the Atlantic coast, making a right turn, circling back and possibly taking this second swipe at South Florida. But for now, certainly the focus is on the storm's impact today and as - this weekend as it's going to move into Georgia and then the Carolinas.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Jacksonville, Fla. Thanks so much.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.