Matthew goes north after 500 deaths in Haiti
Jacksonville could face more floods
ORLANDO: Hurricane Matthew, carrying winds of 190km/h, lashed central Florida yesterday, hugging the Atlantic coast as it moved north and threatening more destruction after killing nearly 500 people in Haiti.
Matthew, the first major hurricane to threaten a direct hit on the US in more than a decade, triggered mass evacuations along the coast from Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina and North Carolina.
Southern parts of Florida escaped the brunt of the storm overnight, but authorities yesterday urged people further north not to be complacent. The Florida coastal city of Jacksonville could face significant flooding, Florida governor Rick Scott warned. The storm had cut power to some 600 000 households, he said.
In Haiti, where poor rural communities were ravaged by Matthew earlier this week, the death toll surged to at least 478 people yesterday, as information trickled in from remote areas previously cut off by the storm, officials said.
At 8am EDT (1200 GMT), Matthew’s eye, or centre, was 55km east of Cape Canaveral in Florida, home to the country’s main space launch site.
“The winds are ferocious right now,” said Jeff Piotrowski, a 40-year-old storm chaser from Tulsa, Oklahoma, who was near Cape Canaveral early yesterday. The storm downed power lines and trees and destroyed billboards in Cape Canaveral, he said.
No significant damage or injuries were reported in West Palm Beach and other communities in south Florida where the storm had brought down trees and power lines earlier in the night, CNN and local media reported.
But Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in media interviews he was concerned relatively light damage so far could give people further north a false sense of security.
“People should not be looking at the damages they’re seeing and saying this storm is not that bad,” Fugate told NBC. He also said people should be aware the hurricane carried more than just ferocious winds. The real danger still is storm surge, particularly in northern Florida and southern Georgia. “These are very vulnerable areas. They’ve never seen this kind of damage potential since the late 1800s.
“It’s still a very dangerous situation,” he said.
Nasa and the US Air Force, which operate the Cape Canaveral launch site, had taken steps to safeguard personnel and equipment. A team of 116 employees was bunkered down inside Kennedy Space Centre’s Launch Control Centre to ride out the hurricane.
In West Palm Beach, street lights and houses went dark and Interstate 95 was empty as the storm rolled through the community of 100 000 people.
Matthew lessened in intensity on Thursday night and into yesterday morning, the National Hurricane Centre said. From an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, it became a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, but was still a major storm.
It could either plough inland or tear along the Atlan- tic coast through yesterday night, the Miami-based centre said, warning of “potentially disastrous impacts”.
The US National Weather Service said the storm could be the most powerful to strike northeast Florida in 118 years.
The NHC’s director, Rick Knabb, said that although Matthew was so far raking the coast, with its eye offshore, it still posed great danger to residents along the coast.
“You don’t have to be near the centre of the hurricane to be in the centre of action with inland flooding,” he said. – Reuters
A resident walks past a wall of sandbags protecting a store in a low-lying area before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, in Charleston, South Carolina, US.
A man tries to repair his home destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Thursday.