Hurricane Matthew, the category 3 or 4 hurricane likely hitting at or near coastal cities like Miami and Jacksonville, each with greater metropolitan areas approaching a million people, will be a huge disaster.
The fact that this hurricane looks to stay very strong as it hits every other coastal Florida city in-between Miami and Jacksonville, then weakening to a category 2 before hitting Savannah and all of the coast of Georgia, then hitting Charleston and all of the coast of South Carolina, then hitting Wilmington and all of the coast of North Carolina, will make this a very huge disaster.
About a decade ago, after Hurricane Katrina, America discovered that a secondary disaster just after hurricane winds strike land, can be storm surge and resulting flooding. About five years ago, after Superstorm Sandy, America discovered that storm surge and flooding can be the main disaster by itself.
After Hurricane Matthew, America will discover a new huge secondary disaster, never seen in modern times across such a large geographic area with such a large accompanying population: Extended Power Outage.
The effects of the extended power outage across the Southeast Coast will impede rescue efforts, slow or block traffic in, out and around the beach cities, discontinue clean water service, keep the lights and air conditioning off, and delay the return of evacuees to their homes. The magnitude of the problem in Florida alone will overwhelm the amassing army of 12,000 Florida Light & Power (FPL) employees, contractors and out of state utility workers who will be tasked with reconnecting the electrical grid system line by line.
Once power outage areas in the unluckiest metropolitan areas, and some locations in-between the big cities, surpass a few days, then surpass a full week, a whole host of unforeseen problems could develop, including some, but hopefully not all of the following: standing floodwater due to non-working pumps; inability to deliver food and drinking water in amounts needed; subsequent food riots; inability to evacuate many in the outage areas; shortages of medications like insulin, medical oxygen, working ventilators and other vital healthcare; lack of heating when the weather turns; gasoline, chemical and electrical accidents; building and block fires; water borne diseases like cholera and the Zika virus; and nuclear power plant fuel storage meltdowns and subsequent radiation leaks.
For both evacuees and stay-putters, just supplies on hand or three day hurricane kits will not be enough for most. Even many of the relatively few who prepare to evacuate or shelter in place by keeping a week of food, water and daily necessities handy, may find that they too will run out of supplies. Standard disaster response efforts of local, state and federal agencies and non-profit organizations will not be able to make up for the lack of vital supplies for so many people, in such a large four state area, needing extra supplies and infrastructure support for such an extended period. Millions of people, not just hundreds of thousands. Multi-statewide destruction and outages, not just citywide. Weeks, not just days.
America has never seen, nor imagined, the effects of such a large, extended power outage, and that is the huge secondary disaster that is coming to the Southeast Coast in the second week of October.