High risk for homeless as Matthew sweeps
up U.S. southeast coast
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[October 08, 2016]
By Zachary Fagenson
WELLINGTON, Fla. (Reuters) - As Hurricane
Matthew bore down on Florida's Atlantic coast, Richard Hatfield, who is
homeless and makes ends meet by panhandling and doing odd jobs, was
desperate to get inside to safety.
He contacted emergency officials in Palm Beach County, who sent a bus to
pick him up in the increasingly high winds accompanying the hurricane's
approach, bringing the 58-year-old to safety as part of the difficult
outreach to a homeless population that is acutely vulnerable to such
"All my stuff was blowing away in the wind and I was concerned about the
storm because I had no place to go. Nowhere," Hatfield said on Friday at
a hurricane shelter in Wellington.
By Friday, the hurricane had killed more than 800 people and left tens
of thousands homeless in Haiti before lashing Florida, killing at least
one person there before rolling northward, triggering mass evacuations
along the coast. By evening it was making its way through Georgia and
toward South Carolina and North Carolina.
The storm, the fiercest cyclone to affect the United States since
Superstorm Sandy hit the Northeast four years ago, posed a particular
challenge to emergency officials seeking to protect vulnerable residents
- the disabled or those living outdoors in homeless encampments, on the
streets or along the Atlantic's many low-lying beaches.
Cities up and down the coast engaged extra buses and vans to pick people
up, some stopping at homeless shelters and others driving to places
where people like Hatfield were sheltering as best they could.
In St. Augustine, Florida, a city of 14,000 with 28 homeless
encampments, Mayor Nancy Shaver said officials were encouraging people
to head to shelters, but not all responded.
Shaver said she saw one man who stood outside, protected only by a
"All that was standing between him and Hurricane Matthew was that
plastic," Shaver said.
In Jacksonville, the largest city facing an immediate threat from
Matthew on Friday, Salvation Army area commander Rob Vincent said
shelter beds were available, but that some people were hesitant to come
in because of rules banning alcohol and drugs, among other things.
Vincent said, however, that by Friday afternoon as the storm was
intensifying, few people were still outside, which he took as a sign
that most had found shelter.
In South Carolina, officials in Horry County put on extra buses to help
those without a means to evacuate get to shelter, including the elderly,
disabled people and the homeless.
[to top of second column]
Storm surge and waves break over the sea wall onto a flooded section
of East Battery Street at the southern-most tip of the city as
Hurricane Matthew arrives in Charleston, South Carolina late October
7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake
A regular stop on the bus rounds was a homeless shelter run by the
non-profit New Directions in Myrtle Beach. Kathy Jenkins, the
organization's executive director, said that the group's three
shelters were prepared to take in considerably more than the 200
people who typically stay in its facilities and participate in its
"All week the relief teams have been going out to places where they
know homeless people have been camping, and letting them know we
have places for people who want to get out of the weather," Jenkins
The organization is also getting the word out through the area's
community kitchen, whose director has been telling patrons that
shelter and transportation is available.
Anyone seeking a roof would be allowed in, Jenkins said, even those
who appeared intoxicated.
As the storm moved from Florida into Georgia on Friday, approaching
the South Carolina coast where Myrtle Beach is located, Jenkins said
she did a last walk-through of her organization's shelters, making
sure there were enough beds and food, and that her staff was
prepared for unexpected emergencies.
"This has been a very, very tough week for our staff and for me,"
Jenkins said. "The magnitude of what we are going to do as we move
through this storm - and how we are going to take care of the people
who have come to us for help - it's huge."
(Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California,
Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Laila Kearney in New York; Writing
by Sharon Bernstein and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Sandra Maler)
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