Hurricane takes aim at Southeast states
Hurricane Matthew marched toward Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas and at least a half a million people along the coast were urged to evacuate their homes Wednesday, a mass exodus ahead of a major storm packing power the U.S. hasn’t seen in more than a decade.
Matthew was a dangerous and life-threatening Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph as it passed through the Bahamas, and it was expected to be near Florida’s Atlantic coast by Thursday evening. At least 11 deaths in the Caribbean were blamed on the storm, with heavy damage reported in Haiti.
The storm was forecast to scrape much of the Florida coast, and any slight deviation could mean landfall or it heading farther out to sea. Either way, it was going to be close enough to wreak havoc along the lower part of the East Coast, and many people weren’t taking any chances.
Tracking models issued early Wednesday evening predicted the storm would move north until reaching the Carolinas before veering east into the ocean and then southeast.
In Melbourne Beach, Fla., near the Kennedy Space Center, Carlos and April Medina moved their paddle board and kayak inside the garage and took pictures off the walls of their home about 500 feet from the coast. They moved the pool furniture inside, turned off the water, disconnected all electrical appliances and emptied their refrigerator.
They then hopped in a truck filled with legal documents, jewelry and a decorative carved shell that had once belonged to April Medina’s great-grandfather and headed west to Orlando, where they planned to ride out the storm with their daughter’s family.
“The way we see it, if it maintains its current path, we get tropical stormstrength winds. If it makes a little shift to the left, it could be a Category 2 or 3 and I don’t want to be anywhere near it,” Carlos Medina said. “We are just being a little safe, a little bit more cautious.”
In Fort Lauderdale, about 200 miles south, six employees at a seven-bedroom Mediterranean-style mansion packed up for an evacuation fearing any storm surge could flood the property. The homeowners planned to move to another home they own in Palm Beach that’s further from the water. Two Lamborghinis and a Ferrari had been placed inside the garage, but employee Mae White wasn’t sure what they would do with a Rolls Royce, Mustang and other cars still parked in the driveway.
“This storm surge. It’s scary,” White said. “You’re on the water, you’ve got to go.”
The last Category 3 storm or higher to hit the United States was Wilma in October 2005. It made landfall with 120 mph winds in southwest Florida, killing five people as it pushed through the Everglades and into the Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach area. It caused an estimated $21 billion in damage and left thousands of residents without power for more than a week. It concluded a two-year span when a record eight hurricanes hit the state.
As of 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Matthew was centered about 400 miles southeast of West Palm Beach and moving northwest, according to the National Hurricane Center. Hurricaneforce winds extended 45 miles from the center.
“When a hurricane is forecast to take a track roughly parallel to a coastline, as Matthew is forecast to do from Florida through South Carolina, it becomes very difficult to specify impacts at any one location,” said National Hurricane Center forecaster Lixion Avila.
People evacuate Merritt Island, Fla., on Wednesday in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew.