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Hurricane Matthew leaves a mess in north Florida, but it could have been worse

Normally, this fence line would keep beachgoers off the protected dunes of St. Augustine Beach, however, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew on Saturday, they are just posts in a stretch of level sand.
Normally, this fence line would keep beachgoers off the protected dunes of St. Augustine Beach, however, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew on Saturday, they are just posts in a stretch of level sand.
Published Oct. 9, 2016

CRESCENT BEACH — The two lines of sand bags the Lynch family left on the back porch were no match for the churning wall of surf that Hurricane Matthew drove off the Atlantic Ocean this weekend.

Security camera video showed the storm surge rush in white and frothy under a steel sky. It pushed about four feet of water against the sliding glass doors, then filled the house and left rocks in the living room.

"Our whole backyard was grass," said Grant Lynch, 19, whose grandmother owns the house. Now "it's just two feet of sand. And in the house it's another two feet."

From Jacksonville to Cocoa Beach, 1.1 million Floridians started Saturday assessing the damage, dealing with toppled trees and waiting for the air conditioning to come back on. By 6 p.m., the number without power had fallen to 673,019.

Insured property damage in coastal Florida, Georgia and South Carolina was projected to be $4 billion to $6 billion by the property data firm CoreLogic.

Matthew killed four people in Florida — two crushed by falling trees, two more poisoned by carbon monoxide from a generator running in a garage in St. Lucie County.

Damage was heaviest along the coast.

"The beach erosion is unbelievable," Gov. Rick Scott said after a flight over northeastern Florida.

The storm gouged sections out of the coastal State Road A1A north of Daytona Beach and almost completely washed out the northbound lane for about a mile at Flagler Beach. It pushed sand dunes inland, ripped apart a pier on Jacksonville Beach and carved out a new inlet south of St. Augustine Beach.

Still, Matthew stayed off the coast. Scott said Florida was "blessed" not to take a direct hit.

"We thought we were going to have the worst storm in 150 years," Jacksonville Beach Mayor Charlie Latham told the Florida Times-Union. "We're very fortunate it turned a little bit north. It wasn't anywhere near as bad as we thought."

A lost livelihood

But for Jerry and Joan Galasso, it could hardly have been worse.

They lost a couple of cars and beds to flooding from the Matanzas River on the first floor of their home in Butler Beach.

Then on Saturday morning, they went to check on their business, the Matanzas Innlet Restaurant off A1A.

The walk-in freezer was in the parking lot, and $10,000 worth of shrimp, chicken, beef and fries sat rotting in the sun next to a bushel of clams and piles of unshucked oysters.

The booths were smashed against the bar. There were large holes in the walls, and the outdoor gazebo had collapsed.

Jerry said the wave that crashed into the building had to have been at least 10 feet high.

Appliances in the kitchen were unrecognizable. The mural of a seaside scene featuring their children's names was ruined.

The couple likely won't re-open. Fifteen employees, including a cook who moved from New York to Florida with the Galassos 25 years ago, will lose their jobs.

"I would think the best thing is to bulldoze it," Joan Galasso said.

Waiting for power

By Saturday evening, a majority of customers in two northeastern Florida counties were still waiting for the power to come back on.

In Flagler County, 82 percent of the county was dark. Volusia County had 63 percent of customers without power. Forty-three percent of customers in Duval and St. Johns counties were out, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Scott said utility companies expect power to be back for most people by late today, though some out-of-the-way spots would be harder to restore.

CoreLogic estimated 1.5 million homes and businesses would be damaged in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

On Saturday, Scott was one of four Southern governors who spoke with President Barack Obama about the hurricane.

Scott reminded the president that Tallahassee had put in a new emergency disaster declaration on Friday to trigger more post-storm recovery funding.

The White House said it is paying close attention to the storm.

"The president committed to providing federal support to help these states respond to the storm's impact," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

Meanwhile, Matthew made landfall about 11 a.m. north of Charleston, S.C., as a Category 1 storm.

By 5 p.m., it was hugging the coast, about 15 miles from Cape Fear, N.C., with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph. It was forecast to drop 8 to 12 inches of rain from South Carolina to southeast Virginia.

Weeks of work ahead

On A1A near Ponte Vedra Beach, about 50 drivers sat on the side of the road Saturday waiting to get home.

Every few minutes, someone asked the St. Johns County sheriff's deputies blocking the two-lane road: How long?

The answer: A long time.

Parts of A1A were gone. Other parts had boats and fishing docks on the pavement. There were rumors of a collapsed bridge.

Lynda Guarnieri, 70, lives alone on a small house in North Beach. She worried about the canopy of live oaks around her home. She worried about looters.

"Every day I feel like I'm in heaven," she said. "I hope that doesn't change."

At Crescent Beach, Michael Lilly waited in a long line of cars on State Road 206 and wondered whether he should just turn around. He lives in the area, but is president of Servpro, a storm restoration business in Flagler County.

The company had received 80 to 100 calls about downed trees, broken windows and water damage. It was bringing cleanup crews from as far away as Texas. And many residents had yet to see their homes.

"We're going to be working for weeks," he said.

Times staff writers Sara DiNatale, Megan Reeves and staff photographer Luis Santana contributed to this report, which includes information from Times/Herald staff writers Jeremy Wallace and Kristen C. Clark, the Associated Press and the Florida Times-Union.

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