Special Report: Hurricane Matthew — 1 Year Later

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — There are still two months left before the end of the 2017 hurricane season.

For the past few weeks all eyes have been on the tropics as brewing storms threatened our area. But none so far this year have had the impact on Hampton Roads and the Outer Banks as Hurricane Matthew.

While many marvel at mother nature’s recent devastation, hundreds here in the area are still busy picking up the pieces from that hurricane one year ago.

Matthew was unpredictable and caught many off guard. The storm was a category 5 that began its destructive path in late September.

Hurricane Matthew is responsible for killing nearly 600 – making it the deadliest Atlantic hurricane since 2005.

Photos: Damage from Hurricane Matthew

10 On Your Side spoke to people from Chesterfield, in Hatteras Island and Virginia Beach. No one believed at the time the storm would have had the impact it did.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” Ed Porner, Virginia Department of Emergency Management Director of Recovery & Resilience told 10 On Your Side’s Brandi Cummings.

“I don’t think any of us were prepared for the amount of damage,” Hatteras Island Hurricane Matthew victim Ashley Jackson said.

“This was something very, very unusual,” Virginia Beach Hurricane Matthew victim Roberta Huff told Cummings.

WAVY Chief Meteorologist Don Slater said of the storm, “We ended up with a disaster obviously. It was catastrophic.”

Read: NOAA & National Weather Service Hurricane Matthew Full Report

According to Slater, at least three different models predicted the storm away from our area. But around the first week of October things changed.

“Hurricane forecast models are in the 90th percentile in terms of accuracy. This one was way off and it soon became very apparent,” Slater said.

It was literally a perfect storm for disaster. With the ground already saturated from two previous storms, high tide and rain pouring from Matthew – the unexpected water simply had nowhere to go.

A view from Chopper 10 showed the widespread flooding that took days to recede. Statistics compiled over several months show the extent of the damage by the numbers.

Thousands of homes were impacted and there was millions of dollars in damage. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the State Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) jumped to action.

“My first day was the day after Matthew hit,” Porner said.

Porner surveyed the damage from a helicopter with Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Hurricane Matthew Public Assistance (Courtesy of VDEM)

“It was one of first of all shock and then you start gearing up for what you’re going to do mentally and to be able to address that,” Porner said. “It was evident that something big had happened.”

Porner explained that VDEM was prepared for the storm at the start and because of Matthew’s projected path some storm centers had begun to shut down.

However overnight flooding reports emerged. They quickly knew things weren’t what had been expected.

“You get to a mindset where you’re like okay this is terrible, but now what kind of action items are we going to get out there to be able to make sure we address those people that are suffering,” he said.

VDEM has spent the last year working with cities helping them get back to the new normal. A lot has changed on the state level since Matthew.

According to VDEM Chief Spokesperson Jeff Caldwell, “We’ve taken a new approach to the way we do business.”

VDEM is now working on a state-wide recovery plan. Additionally 30 percent of its force is now out in the localities to be able to more quickly respond in the event of a hurricane.

“We’re being much more proactive when it comes to leaning into these types of storms,” Caldwell said.

We’ve already seen part of that readiness plan. Earlier this year the state unveiled a new, tiered hurricane evacuation system.

Hurricane Matthew Individual Assistance (Courtesy of VDEM)

“That’s going to give us a much more comprehensive ability to issue instructions across the entire region and eliminate a lot of that confusion that comes from specific communications for a general locality like Virginia beach, or Norfolk or Chesapeake,” Caldwell said.

As the state prepares for the next storm, we found many people still recovering from Matthew, one year later. VDEM estimates a reported 100 homes across Hampton Roads still need repair.

It’s a process that could take years to complete. The biggest lesson about mother nature’s fury in Hurricane Matthew perhaps came in the way this storm was predicted.

“So the lesson learned from Matthew is certainly to focus on the possibility that any community here in Hampton roads can be impacted and flooding can really significantly have a lasting impact on a community that’s not used to seeing the coastal flooding that’s normally associated with a hurricane,” Caldwell said.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has since retired Matthew as an Atlantic tropical storm name.

Be sure to watch WAVY News 10 on Tuesday. Our Brandi Cummings traveled to Hatteras Island to find out the lessons learned in the Outer Banks. You’ll meet a family who only recently moved back into their home because of the extensive damage from the storm.


More coverage of Hurricane Matthew: