The images of the damage coming out of Haiti and Cuba after Hurricane Matthew’s assault are searing. Those coming out of Miami-Dade County, mercifully, not so much.
Comparisons, of course, are unfair. The island Caribbean nations endured direct hits from the Category 4 storm, as did the Bahamas after that. In Haiti, the assault was brutal, and by Thursday night, almost 300 people were reported to have died. Homes that were not very sturdy to begin with were reduced to matchsticks. Residents with not very much lost all that they had.
In Cuba, the town of Baracoa was left smashed. However, as of Thursday afternoon, there were no reports of fatalities. Given Cuba’s mandatory evacuation orders before any natural disaster, more than 30,000 left their homes, which likely is the reason that there appeared to be no storm-related deaths.
The Bahamas saw widespread flooding, toppled trees and downed power lines as Matthew lashed Nassau.
But by 6 p.m. on Thursday, in Miami-Dade County, Mayor Carlos Gimenez announced that the alert level at the emergency-operations center would be lowered, that bus service would resume Friday morning and that his late-afternoon press conference would be the last as far as Hurricane Matthew was concerned.
The sustained high winds and unceasing pelting rains didn’t really materialize. But had they, Miami-Dade residents, business owners and administrators were well prepared. All leaped into action after Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency on Monday. It’s been a while since this area has had to go through such a drill, but few seemed rusty or out of practice. That’s good, because things could have been much worse.
This is not to suggest that everyone emerged unscathed. Throughout the day, about 17,000 customers lost power, with an uprooted ficus tree in Miami Shores causing one of the earliest outages in the storm. Countywide, electricity to the majority of those customers was restored fairly quickly, a testament to Florida Power & Light’s consistent efforts to “harden” the supply system over years.
Thursday evening, the still-Category 4 Matthew showed no signs of losing speed, with the possibility that it could do severe damage to Central Florida’s east coast and, after that, Jacksonville, where storm surge could be catastrophic and with the winds not seen in a century.
Now comes the hope that areas to the north are spared the wallop that Greater Miami expected and — despite the time-consuming preparation — should be grateful to have escaped.