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Sunday 23 October 2016

Hurricane Matthew weakens as it rakes US Atlantic Coast

Published 08/10/2016 | 05:41

Debris litters a road on St Simons Island, Georgia (AP)
Debris litters a road on St Simons Island, Georgia (AP)

A fast-weakening Hurricane Matthew has continued its march along the US Atlantic coast, lashing two of the South's most historic cities and some of its most popular resort islands.

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The storm, which has been blamed for at least 10 deaths in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, flattened trees, swamped streets and knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of people.

The hurricane left at least 470 people dead in Haiti in one hard-hit district alone, according to officials, with other stricken areas still unreachable four days after the disaster struck.

Matthew raked Georgia and South Carolina with torrential rain and strong winds, and - for the first time in its run up the US coastline - its storm centre blew ashore, making landfall north of Charleston, near the town of McClellanville, where it caused serious flooding.

Up until then, the eye of the storm had stayed just far enough out at sea that coastal communities did not feel the full force of Matthew's winds. As the storm passed one city after another, there was relief that things were nowhere near as bad as many feared.

"We are all blessed that Matthew stayed off our coast," Florida governor Rick Scott said.

"We are blessed that we didn't have a direct hit."

Matthew - by some measures the most powerful hurricane to menace the US in more than a decade - was just barely a hurricane, with winds of 75mph as it hit Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and Wilmington, North Carolina. Its winds were down from the 145mph recorded when it roared into Haiti.

From there, the storm was expected to veer out to sea and loop back around through the Bahamas and toward Florida, though as a barely noticeable wave.

North Carolina governor Pat McCrory warned people not to let their guard down just because Matthew was losing steam.

In the historic town of Savannah, Georgia, floodwaters several feet deep submerged a long stretch of President Street, which links the centre to the highway to Georgia's Tybee Island.

Matthew also brought some of the highest tides on record along the South Carolina coast. Streets in Charleston - a city of handsome pre-Civil War homes and church steeples - were flooded.

South Carolina's golf-and-tennis resort Hilton Head Island also took a blow as the eye of the storm passed 20 miles to the east. At least one gust of 87mph was recorded at Hilton Head.

The two roads onto the island of 40,000 people were blocked by fallen pine trees, and many roads were under water. Signs were blown over, and power was out across the island.

Residents of Brunswick, Georgia, woke to roads covered by water or fallen trees and power lines. All access points to nearby St Simons Island from the mainland were blocked. Tybee Island also took a beating, with gusts clocked at 93mph.

Nearly half a million electric customers in South Carolina were left without power, and 250,000 were in the dark in coastal Georgia.

Matthew set off alarms as it closed in on the US, triggering evacuation orders covering at least two million people. But in the end, the hurricane skirted Florida's heavily populated Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach area and sideswiped cities farther north, including Daytona Beach, Vero Beach, Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville, without its centre ever actually coming ashore in Florida.

The damage consisted largely of fallen trees and power lines, eroded beaches and flooded roads. In Florida, large sections of the coastal A1A highway near Daytona Beach were smashed to pieces.

Well south of the storm, things quickly began returning to normal, with all three of Orlando's main theme parks - Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld - reopening in the morning., while power came back to the one million people in Florida who lost it.

Four deaths reported in Florida included an elderly St Lucie County couple who died from carbon monoxide fumes while running a generator in their garage and two women who were killed when trees fell on a home and a camper.

Three other deaths were reported in Georgia, while three more people died in North Carolina.

Property data firm CoreLogic projected the storm would cause four to six billion dollars (£3.2-£4.8 billion) in insured losses on home and commercial properties. That compares with Hurricane Katrina's 40 billion dollars and Superstorm Sandy's 20 billion dollars.


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