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Residents In Georgia Left Flooded, Without Electricity In Wake Of Hurricane Matthew

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Heavy rains from Hurricane Matthew today stretch from Georgia all the way to Virginia. The center of the storm is moving slowly up the coast. The big concerns now are storm surge along the coast and flooding. NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell is in Savannah, Ga., where damage assessment is just getting underway. Rae, thanks very much for being with us.

RAE ELLEN BICHELL, BYLINE: Thank you.

SIMON: What do you know about what happened there last night?

BICHELL: We're still getting information on what happened in Georgia. We know that in Florida, four people died - two from falling trees, a couple from carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator they were running. And in this county - Chatham County - the Emergency Management Agency is reporting a record storm surge on Tybee Island, which is just off the coast, and that surge is that 12 and a half feet. The last record was from Hurricane David way back in 1979. And then utilities in Georgia are reporting that almost 300,000 customers have power outages across the state. The National Weather Service says those outages could last weeks or longer, but it is a lot worse in Florida. More than a million homes and businesses are without power there this morning.

SIMON: And, Rae Ellen, what are you seeing in Savannah today?

BICHELL: Well, there are about 70 state law enforcement officers at the hotel where I'm staying. And they're just now gathering and trying to figure out what they'll be able to do today. It sounds like one of the big obstacles is that trees and power lines are blocking the roads, and that'll make it hard for them to get anything done. The Georgia Department of Transportation says they're inspecting bridges now and just trying to clear downed trees from the roads. And the National Hurricane Center shows flooding in some areas over nine feet above ground, so that's a big obstacle, too.

Here in downtown, the winds gusted as high as 80 miles an hour. I could hear those last night and this morning. When I walk past the elevator shaft, there's just this strong whirring sound. Early, early this morning, there were these, like, sort of swooshes of rain and wind hitting the windows. And now today at the intersection outside the hotel where I'm staying, you can see that a streetlight was just snapped right off the line, and it's sort of lying twisted on the ground.

SIMON: And, of course, it's very difficult for emergency crews to get out and to repair the damage as long as there - as long as there is the threat of water and, of course, just the wreckage that is left following a storm.

BICHELL: Exactly.

SIMON: What's expected next with this storm?

BICHELL: Well, right now the eye is moving along the coast of South Carolina. It's predicted to stay near or over the coast and then skirt North Carolina by tonight. Forecasters say there's going to be strong winds and storm surge that could do some pretty bad damage - totally destroy mobile homes, make places, quote, "uninhabitable" for weeks or months and then flood low-lying areas, wash away dunes. They're worried about fallen electric lines, as they are here in Georgia, gas leaks, unavailable water and sewage systems. And then there's also the possibility of tornadoes in the Carolinas, but that threat is supposed to go down later today, so it's still pretty dangerous.

SIMON: NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell, speaking with us in Savannah, Ga, thanks so much for being with us.

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