Be­fore the storm

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By REUTERS

Matthew, the first ma­jor hur­ri­cane threat­en­ing a di­rect hit on the United States in more than 10 years, blasted the Ba­hamas on Thurs­day as it headed for Florida af­ter killing at least 265 peo­ple in the Caribbean, mostly in Haiti.

Car­ry­ing ex­tremely dan­ger­ous winds of 140 mph (220 kph), the storm pounded the north­west­ern part of the Ba­hamas en route to Florida’s At­lantic coast, the US Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter (NHC) said.

US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­clared a state of emer­gency in Florida as Matthew strength­ened, the White House said on Thurs­day.

The ac­tion au­tho­rizes the Depart­ment of Home­land Security and the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency to co­or­di­nate dis­as­ter re­lief ef­forts ne­ces­si­tated by the storm, a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane pack­ing winds of 140 mph (220 kph).

“Hur­ri­cane Matthew is as se­ri­ous as it gets. Lis­ten to local officials, pre­pare, take care of each other,” Obama warned peo­ple in the path of the storm in a post­ing on Twit­ter.

Matthew’s sus­tained winds later dropped to 130 mph, but it was likely to re­main a Cat­e­gory 4 on the five-step Saf­firSimp­son scale of hur­ri­cane

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama

in­ten­sity as it closed in on the United States, where it could ei­ther take di­rect aim at Florida or tear along the state’s coast through Fri­day night, the Mi­ami-based cen­ter said.

Few storms with winds as pow­er­ful as Matthew’s have struck Florida, and the NHC warned of “po­ten­tially dis­as­trous im­pacts”. The US Na­tional Weather Ser­vice said the storm could be the most pow­er­ful to strike north­east Florida in 118 years.

Hur­ri­cane con­di­tions were ex­pected in parts of Florida late on Thurs­day and a dan­ger­ous storm surge is ex­pected to reach up to 11 feet (3.35 me­ters) along the Florida coast, Ed Rap­pa­port, deputy direc­tor of the Mi­ami-based NHC, said on CNN.

“What we know is that most of the lives lost in hur­ri­canes is due to storm surge,” he said.

Some 260 peo­ple were killed in Haiti, local officials said, and thou­sands were dis­placed af­ter the storm flat­tened homes, up­rooted trees and in­un­dated neigh­bor­hoods ear­lier in the week. Four peo­ple were killed in the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, which neigh­bors Haiti.

As the storm passed near the Ba­hamas cap­i­tal of Nas­sau, howl­ing gusts of wind brought down palms and other trees and ripped shin­gles off the rooftops of many houses. The eye of the storm was lo­cated over the western end of Grand Ba­hama Is­land on Thurs­day evening.

It was too soon to pre­dict where Matthew might do the most of its dam­age in the United States, but the NHC’s hur­ri­cane warn­ing ex­tended up the At­lantic coast from south­ern Florida through Ge­or­gia and into South Carolina. More than 12 mil­lion peo­ple in the United States were un­der hur­ri­cane watches and warn­ings, ac­cord­ing to the Weather Chan­nel.

The last ma­jor hur­ri­cane, clas­si­fied as a storm bear­ing sus­tained winds of more than 110 mph, to make land­fall on US shores was Hur­ri­cane Wilma in 2005.

Florida Gover­nor Rick Scott warned there could be “cat­a­strophic” dam­age if Matthew slammed di­rectly into the state, and he urged some 1.5 mil­lion peo­ple there to evac­u­ate.

“If you’re re­luc­tant to evac­u­ate, just think about all the peo­ple ... al­ready killed,” Scott said at a news con­fer­ence. “Time is run­ning out. This is clearly ei­ther go­ing to have a di­rect hit or come right along the coast.”

Scott, who ac­ti­vated several thou­sand Na­tional Guard troops, warned that mil­lions of peo­ple were likely to be left with­out power.

Florida, Ge­or­gia and South Carolina opened shel­ters for evac­uees. As of Thurs­day morn­ing, more than 3,000 peo­ple were be­ing housed in 60 shel­ters in Florida, Scott said.

Hur­ri­cane Matthew is as se­ri­ous as it gets ... Take care of each other.”

JAVIER GALEANO / REUTERS

A man rides his bi­cy­cle along the beach prior to the ar­rival of Hur­ri­cane Matthew in Mi­ami Beach, Florida on Thurs­day. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­clared a state of emer­gency in Florida as the cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane bore down on Southest US coast.

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