After devastating Haiti, Hurricane Matthew threatens Florida


JUDY WOODRUFF:  It's been a day to hunker down along the Atlantic shores of Florida.  Hurricane Matthew plowed north with winds of 110 miles an hour, and there were late reports of heavy damage in the state's northeastern corner.

In the storm's wake, the tragedy in Haiti only deepened, with more than 800 people dead.

Hari Sreenivasan is in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and he begins our coverage.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Three days after the hurricane struck Haiti, the water is receding, and survivors are finding bodies by the hundreds.

Ingrid Arnesen is a freelance journalist who's been out for a first-hand look.

INGRID ARNESEN:  The south is in a catastrophic situation.  The hurricane flattened the two main cities, destroyed the main roads connecting each three departments, pretty much a third of Haiti, destroyed bridges.  So, reaching the south is impossible.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The death toll is expected to rise sharply as teams enter remote areas of the hard-hit southwestern peninsula.  For example, one official working in mountainous Beaumont, on the outskirts of Jeremie, says his group found more than 80 bodies that had not yet been recorded by the government.

The storm blasted Haiti with winds of 145 miles an hour and several feet of rain, and left utter devastation in one of the world's poorest countries.

MAN (through translator):  We have big problems here.  There are almost no houses left standing.  We don't have food, nor a hospital to get health care.

MAN (through translator):  We have nothing.  The hurricane took shirts from our backs.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Tens of thousands are now homeless, and their crops have been destroyed.  But relief efforts are gearing up.

The U.S. military expects to deliver food and water to hard-hit areas.  and international aid groups are appealing for donations.

Margaret Traub is with the International Medical Corps.

MARGARET TRAUB:  Right now, I would say the Haitian people need food, shelter, clean water, some medical supplies.  We are on Ile-a-Vache, which is an island about a 45-minute boat ride from Les Cayes.

In one of the hospitals where they reported some cholera patients, they didn't have cleaning supplies, they didn't have antibiotics.  So, we're very worried about, while people may have survived the storm, they're going to not survive the disease.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Meanwhile, people along Florida's Atlantic Coast spent this day waiting out Matthew.  The eye of the storm stayed just off shore, and may have spared the state a catastrophic blow.

Governor Rick Scott repeatedly made clear the danger had not passed.

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R-Fla.):  There's no victory lap here.  The victory lap is when the storm leaves our state.  And I hope it doesn't hit Georgia, South and North Carolina.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The city of Jacksonville may get the worst of it, as the hurricane passes this evening.  From there, it will push north along Georgia and the Carolinas, keeping hundreds of miles of coastline under threat for 15 inches of rain and a nine-foot storm surge.

The governors of South Carolina and Georgia warned today that time is running out.

GOV. NIKKI HALEY (R-S.C.):  This is the last time you will see me before we are actually in storm mode.  So, please evacuate.

GOV. NATHAN DEAL (R-Ga.):  There's nothing certain about this other than the danger, and we should pay due heed to the warnings that have been given.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  In Washington, President Obama met with the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and repeated his own warning.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:  The potential for storm surge, flooding, loss of life and severe property damage continues to exist, and people continue to need to continue to follow the instructions of their local officials over the course of the next 24, 48, 72 hours.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Thousands along the Florida coast did heed those warnings from authorities to evacuate and move further inland.  They found themselves in places like Orlando in Central Florida.  For them, today was a long day of watching and waiting.

Gloria and David Floyd live in Satellite Beach, southeast of Orlando.  Their home and yard took some damage, but they said it could have been much worse.  Even so, they headed to a hotel on higher land.

DAVID FLOYD, Satellite Beach, Florida:  Once it got to be a Category 4, I knew that it could get really ugly, and that is when I knew that I decided I had better leave.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  The McChrystal family waited out the storm at the same hotel.

LIZ MCCHRYSTAL, Satellite Beach, Florida:  I'm a little nervous.  I think today will be a long day, until we can get back tomorrow and see what — you know, what the results are.  But most likely, a lot of people in the neighborhoods local are lucky so far.  So I'm going to feed off the good luck.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Others may not be so lucky, and there's economic disruption as well.  Coastal businesses and tourism are shut down, and airlines have canceled thousands of flights through tomorrow.

The entire last half-hour on the drive out to New Smyrna Beach here in Florida, the power has been out, businesses have been shut down, and people are slowly starting to creep back in, trying to figure out how they are going to try to get things back to normal, and that's not even the worst of it.  The northeast corner of Florida has gotten it much worse — Judy.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Hari, tell us more about what you have seen.  I think you started in Orlando.  You have been making your way to where you are now, in New Smyrna Beach.  Tell us about what you have seen.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Well, just a little while ago, we were at kind of one of the central park areas in New Smyrna.

Huge trees.  A woman that was passing by said, look, these trees take 100 years to grow, 100 years to die, and this is an just unbelievable sight just to see so many trees down all over the place.

There is a boatyard or a drydock where people keep their boats.  The roofs have been peeled off.  Boats have been kind of tossed around inside it as if they were toys.  The force of this hurricane, it depends on which house you look at, which street you look down, whether there is debris, whether there is walls and fences that have been pulled down, whether there is water that is slowly inundating around these low-lying areas.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Hari, I think a lot of people don't appreciate what storm surge means, but the water is lethal in a storm like this.

HARI SREENIVASAN:  That's right.

In St. Augustine and further north here in Florida and also in Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, the real big concern is what a two-foot or an eight-foot storm surge could do, because so many of these cities are low-lying.  And these storm surges just really push.  Almost imagine like a wave taking that last bit of water right onto land.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And, Hari, from what you can tell, most of the people along this coastal area did evacuate?

HARI SREENIVASAN:  Yes, I think that was the sort of silver lining to this is that a lot of people heeded the warnings.  They didn't put first-responders at risk.  Authorities were relatively happy about that.

There are, of course, people who decided to try and ride out the hurricane.  And we won't know until everybody gets back what the damage was, but most people heeded the warnings from the local and national authorities who said get out of the way.

And now people are very anxious, of course, to see what the state of their property is like, how everything fared through the storm.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  Hari Sreenivasan reporting for us from New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Hari, we want you to get someplace where you are dry and safe.


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