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Florida Breathes A Collective Sigh Of Relief As Hurricane Dorian Moves North


Florida has been spared the worst from Hurricane Dorian. The Category 2 hurricane stayed offshore as it moved parallel to the state's Atlantic coast. Georgia and the Carolinas are now starting to feel the impacts of the large storm.

NPR's Debbie Elliott joins us from Jacksonville, Fla. And Debbie, tell us what it's been like there today.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: Well, it's calming now, but earlier, we had some gusty tropical winds, a lot of rain and some rough surf. There were some scattered power outages, minor flooding, but really no reports of major damage. And authorities have already started to lift the evacuation and curfew orders that they'd put in place. You know, in general, I'd say there was a collective sigh of relief in Florida.

Earlier today, before the rain came in, I spoke with Terry Booth, who had stopped at a waterfront park to check out the choppy St. Johns River in the San Marcos neighborhood, which is prone to flooding. And here's what he had to say.

TERRY BOOTH: You have to take it serious because if you don't - just come up and bite you in the rear - especially these storms. You just never know what they're going to do. We got fortunate again, so we've been very lucky.

ELLIOTT: Now, flights out of the Jacksonville Airport were canceled for today, but travel has resumed at the Orlando Airport, and the area's theme parks reopened - so definitely signs of getting back to normal here in Florida after days of preparing for what could have been a much different scenario.

SHAPIRO: So while Florida is breathing a sigh of release - relief, other parts of the southeastern coast are concerned about what Dorian will bring. Tell us about what's happening in Georgia and the Carolinas.

ELLIOTT: Right. It's - the outer bands are now starting to effect to Georgia and the Carolinas. The storm expected to go all the way up into Virginia. And all five states have declared emergencies to prepare. Millions of people are still under evacuation orders, though not everyone heeded them. And that worries Jason Buelterman. He's the mayor of Tybee Island, Ga.

JASON BUELTERMAN: If this storm wobbles a little bit to the west, you'd be crazy, having seen what happened to the Bahamas - and I know the storm has weakened, but still - not to be concerned for the safety of people staying on a barrier island, you know, 30, 40, 50 miles away from the center of Hurricane Dorian.

SHAPIRO: OK. So that's Georgia, and then Dorian heads towards South Carolina. What are authorities there doing to prepare, Debbie?

ELLIOTT: Well, you know, they've opened shelters, and there's (inaudible) resources. You've got high-water vehicles, utility trucks, rescue crews and emergency provisions all at the ready. In Charleston and the South Carolina low country, there's a particular concern about the potential for flooding, with life-threatening storm surge in the forecast coinciding with high tides there. Officials think it's really going to be a mess, and they're going door to door in some coastal communities, urging people to get out before the roads close. But Matthew Price (inaudible) Mount Pleasant says he's feeling hurricane-weary at this point, and he's not likely to leave.

MATTHEW PRICE: I think if they continue to call the evacuations that early, people are going to start to consider it like the boy who cried wolf. And the one time that it is serious, there'll be more people staying, and it'll be a huge issue then.

ELLIOTT: I mean, you could hear the wind already blowing there.


ELLIOTT: You know, that's always the difficult calculation for officials, right? You've got to make sure that there's time to get people out of harm's way before the forecasters can actually pinpoint exactly where a hurricane might strike.

SHAPIRO: Right. So we've been watching this storm make this kind of slow, lumbering march northward over the last couple days. What are forecasters saying about whether and where it might come ashore?

ELLIOTT: Well, the last forecast has Dorian as a strong hurricane moving near or over South Carolina tomorrow and North Carolina Thursday night and Friday. So it's going to hug the coast and possibly make landfall on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. That state has evacuated its barrier islands. Officials are monitoring the potential for inland river flooding, with rain forecast up to 12 inches. You know, Governor Roy Cooper is warning people, do not underestimate this storm.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Debbie Elliott in Jacksonville, Fla. Thank you.

ELLIOTT: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.