ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – It’s been two months since Hurricane Matthew swept up Florida’s east coast, leaving behind a trail of damage and destruction.
St. Augustine saw much of that damage as Matthew’s eye wall skirted the city. Now we’re learning just how much the hurricane cost the city as a new dollar amount was released on Monday.
Since Matthew, we’ve heard a lot about the businesses and homes impacted by the storm. But the city itself took a major financial hit too. A hit to the sum of an estimated $7.1 million.
The cleanup efforts moved quickly in St. Augustine, a city heavily dependent on tourism for its economic health. While much of the city appears to be returning to normal, St. Augustine Director of Budget and Performance Management Meredith Breidenstein said the financial burden is still very much here for city government.
“We've estimated our damages right now at around $7 million,” Breidenstein said. “Those are estimates only.”
Breidenstein has spent the last 60 days compiling the cost of Matthew’s damage, and the cleanup that’s followed.
“It's all been a surprise as we go along,” Breidenstein said. “I should say just because it's been a long time since we faced any storm like this, but especially one this size.”
From a damaged fishing pier and marina to landscaping and emergency services, Hurricane Matthew took a serious financial toll on St. Augustine, with one cost, in particular, standing out.
“I believe the debris costs were probably a surprise from our first initial look at things,” Breidenstein said. “Those costs have been high, but we feel that we've done everything we need to do to get the debris removed as quickly as possible.”
Breidenstein said even with the volatile nature of the tropics, the city was ready for Matthew and will be ready for any other hurricanes in the future.
“Fortunately, we do have emergency reserves that we have always maintained, so we feel like we have been prepared so that if any unexpected costs arrive, we can handle those,” Breidenstein said.
The city says the next step is to present the numbers to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Officials said at least 75 percent of the estimated damage costs will be submitted for potential reimbursement.
There’s no official timeline on how long it could take to see that funding, but one city official said it could be a “long time.”