JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After an aerial tour of hurricane damage in and around Duval County, Gov. Rick Scott said the state is blessed the state didn't take a direct hit from what was once a Category 4 storm.
Scott said called the beach erosion and washed out roads "unbelievable," but said the storm's path off the coastline avoided even greater destruction.
“If it had a direct impact hit, it would have been a lot worse for our families,” Scott said.
News4Jax flew aboard the National Guard Black Hawk helicopter with Scott and Mayor Lenny Curry to assess damage along the coast and St. Johns River.
"There’s an unbelievable amount of beach erosion," Scott said. "Quite a few pockets of our roads are damaged along the coast. We still have a lot of flooding, a lot of beach erosion and a lot of people without power. We saw a lot of piers and docks messed up.”
Scott was also joined by his leadership team from the National Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers. They surveyed the storm surge that brought seawater, dirt and debris ashore, but the water had run off and there were no collapsed buildings.
“From the helicopter, you can't see the downed power lines as easy, but you can see the beach erosion. It's really bad,” Scott said.
More than 1.5 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate ahead of the storm. The governor says it's too early to determine how many people heeded the orders to leave.
Curry said what he saw confirmed his decision to evacuate 456,000 people.
"I mean, you're looking at data and, frankly, you're having to make judgment decisions. There is no handbook on this ... and we made the right call."
Scott also thanked those who heeded his warnings and said he hoped they would obey orders to evacuate in the future.
“That's what I worry about now,” Scott said. “You look at the loop of this thing. It's going to come back around, maybe. Are people going to take it seriously enough?”
While Matthew's eyewall never reached Florida's coastline, its hurricane-force winds were strong enough to knock out power for more than 1 million customers in several counties. The storm has also been blamed for at least four deaths -- one from a tree falling in Putnam County.
Scott said the damage seen in this flight was extensive, what he saw in St. Johns and Flagler counties was even worse.
Law enforcement agencies and members of the Florida National Guard continued search and rescue operations Saturday. Scott has deployed 3,500 members of the Guard for the hurricane.
All airports except the Northeast Florida Regional Airport in Saint Augustine have reopened, along with all seaports except JAXPort and the Port of Fernandina.
“Boy this state is a resilient state,” Scott said. “We know there is a lot of work to do, but this state is going to come back.”
Forecast models from the National Hurricane Center on Friday had the path of Matthew possibly looping back to South Florida, as a depression or tropical storm, by the middle of next week. On Saturday, updated tracking models still showed the storm making a southern turn in the open Atlantic, but much further offshore than originally predicted.