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Hurricane Matthew Causes Floods On The Low-Lying Barrier Tybee Island In Georgia


Hurricane Matthew roared across the southeastern United States this weekend, leaving a trail of severe flooding and at least 10 deaths. And in some places where the storm has already passed, officials say it's too dangerous for people to return to their homes. As NPR's Rae Ellen Bichell reports, Tybee Island off the coast of Georgia is one of those places.

RAE ELLEN BICHELL, BYLINE: Police cars block the one road that leads to Tybee Island, about 20 miles from Savannah. The power's still out and there's water and wind damage. Most of the 3,000 residents can't return yet. But some, like bar owner Calvin Ratterree, never left.

CALVIN RATTERREE: I was going to stay no matter what, and it ended up turning into a party. (Laughter) It wasn't planned, but it happened.

BICHELL: The night of the storm, he kept the bar open until 9 p.m., hanging out with others who ignored the mandatory evacuation order. Then around 3 a.m., he says, the storm broke loose.

RATTERREE: Oh, the wind got bad, bad. And also you started hearing stuff flying. And it just - yeah, it was ugly.

BICHELL: Tybee Island was predicted to be the worst-hit part of Georgia.

JASON BUELTERMAN: I'm breathing a sigh of relief from what I saw. It's unbelievable that I'm standing right here and not seeing massive damage.

BICHELL: That's Tybee Mayor Jason Buelterman. After flying over the island in a helicopter Saturday to survey the damage, he was relieved because the sand dunes helped to minimize the destruction.

BUELTERMAN: So that's why the dunes are so important, because if you have that surge, that's what knocks houses down.

BICHELL: As the hurricane approached, there were major concerns of widespread damage across the Southeast. But in many places, like on Tybee Island, the devastation ended up being not as bad as feared. Still, the cleanup is expected to take weeks or months. Rae Ellen Bichell, NPR News, Savannah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.