Hurricane Matthew Rolls Into Savannah, Ga., Which Is Now Under Curfew

Oct 7, 2016
Originally published on October 16, 2016 11:59 am
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Hurricane Matthew is already responsible for hundreds of deaths in the Caribbean, mostly in Haiti. We'll have more on the situation in that country elsewhere in the program. Now, authorities in Florida say at least two people have been killed there by fallen trees. The hurricane hit the northeast part of the state 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 is in Savannah, Ga, and she's with us now. Hi there.


MCEVERS: So tell us, what is the major concern in Georgia right now?

BICHELL: The huge worry, as with most hurricanes is storm surge. That's generally what causes the most damage and takes the most lives. And that happens when the high winds just sort of push water onto the coasts. Right now, the National Hurricane Center has predicted somewhere between 5 and 10 feet of seawater that could flood coastal areas. And the National Weather service in Charleston, S.C., is reporting right now that the water level at the harbor is about 3 feet above what they normally have, and that's low tide right now. So storm surge - that's a major reason why governors in Georgia and South Carolina - that's Nathan Deal and Nikki Haley - ordered mandatory evacuation along their state's coasts, which was the first time that's happened in something like 17 years. And at a press conference earlier today, Haley said her biggest concern was getting people off the islands off of South Carolina.


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. If you know of anybody on Daufuskie that is staying, it is going to be under water. So we have to get these people out.

MCEVERS: That is a strong statement there. I mean, there was a mandatory evacuation order for the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. Did people heed that warning?

BICHELL: Well, earlier today in Savannah, I watched people board the last busses headed to Red Cross shelters further inland around Augusta, Ga. The Red Cross says more than 2,000 people took advantage of those free rides, a lot of them older folks and families with kids, from what I could tell. But during a press conference earlier, some local official said that about 25 percent of the Chatham County residents still remain.

Now the storm's on the southeast coast of Georgia, so it's pretty much too late for evacuation here. The folks who haven't left are probably here for the long haul now. And here in Savannah, there is a mandatory curfew until daylight. The police said that they'd arrest people found outside during that period. There's similar curfews in parts of coastal South Carolina that'll start around now and later this evening. And the primary concern there is break-ins.

MCEVERS: How do things in Savannah look right now?

BICHELL: Well, the streets are pretty empty. The wind and rain are really picking up now. When I was walking around earlier, I saw that a lot of buildings were boarded up with plywood. That was the recommendation either sort of marining (ph) plexiglass or plywood.

But it is a really beautiful place. There's historic houses everywhere, these huge live oak trees, lots of Spanish moss. One resident that I spoke to said that's what he's most concerned about, these live oaks coming down. Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach told reporters this evening that at this point, it's just time to ride the storm out.


EDDIE DELOACH: It's time to get down through the storm, get the storm out of the way. And we'll get back to running business, and we'll get back to cleaning up and doing what we need to do in Savannah, be the hostess of the South.

BICHELL: We did learn about a wedding that was supposed to happen tomorrow. The couple went ahead with it today with the 30 or so people who could make it, instead of the 150 they invited. Everything cancelled - caterer, venue - so they just did the whole thing at the house and cooked themselves. They said it went great.

MCEVERS: That's NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell in Savannah, Ga. Thank you very much.

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