Fort Pulaski still recovering after Hurricane Matthew

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — It remains uncertain when Fort Pulaski will reopen to the public after Hurricane Matthew roared past the national monument two weeks ago, officials said.

"The damage was pretty devastating," said Melissa Memory, Fort Pulaski National Monument superintendent. "We had our plan in place, but no one really expected it to be as bad as it was."

Images after the storm showed floodwaters surrounding the fort, swallowing trees in the distance, The Savannah Morning News reported (http://bit.ly/2eljGxz).

Fort Pulaski, which is maintained by the National Park Service on Cockspur Island, was one of 10 parks damaged by the storm in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Another six parks were heavily damaged in North Carolina.

Fort Pulaski has about 400,000 visitors each year, Memory told the Savannah newspaper, but that's come to a halt as the National Park Service assesses the damage caused by Matthew.

Just before the storm, personnel were able to move a majority of the monument's Civil War artifacts and memorabilia to other preservation sites, authorities said.

"We had evacuated most of our artifacts to Fort Frederica in Saint Simons because they have a higher elevation and it's designed to be more resilient to these kinds of storms," she said.

The Georgia Historical Society also agreed to house some of Fort Pulaski's rarest archive material, she added.

The storm also downed 300 trees on site and ripped off tin roofs from the fort. Flooding destroyed century-old floorboards and entry ways to the fort. Drawbridges were washed away, making boats the only mode of transportation to cross the moat leading up to the fort, the Savannah newspaper reported.

Analysts have yet to come up with an exact number of repairs and the costs involved, but the repairs won't be quick, said Joel Cadoff, acting chief of interpretation and education for the Fort Pulaski National Monument.

"We definitely want to take our time as we assess the damage to the floors because where they've come up — it's like a fun house. They're been pushed up all over the fort," Cadoff said.

"It's definitely going to take time as part of our preservation efforts so we can make sure that Fort Pulaski is as healthy as it can be on the surface and underneath... We want to make sure this place is healthy with our preservation standards but also is a safe place for our visitors."

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