OMINOUS MATTHEW BEARS DOWN ON FLA.
Millions of people urged to evacuate as powerful storm approaches coast
Leaving more than 100 dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Hurricane Matthew steamed toward Florida with potentially catastrophic winds of 140 mph Thursday, and 2 million people across the Southeast were warned to flee inland.
It was the most powerful storm to threaten the U.S. Atlantic coast in more than a decade.
“This storm’s a monster,” Gov. Rick Scott warned as it started lashing the state with rain and wind around nightfall. He added: “I’m going to pray for everybody’s safety.”
As it moved north in the evening, Matthew stayed about 100 miles or more off South Florida, sparing the 4.4 million people in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas from its most punishing effects.
“We were lucky this time,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.
The hurricane was instead expected to blow ashore — or come dangerously close to doing so — early Friday north of West Palm Beach, Fla., which has about 1.1 million people, then slowly push north for the next 12 hours along the Interstate 95 corridor, through Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Forecasters said it probably then would hug the coast of Georgia and South Carolina over the weekend before veering out to sea — perhaps even looping back toward Florida in the middle of next week as a tropical storm.
Millions of people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were told to evacuate their homes, and interstate highways were turned into one-way routes to speed the exodus. Florida alone accounted for about 1.5 million of those told to clear out.
“The storm has already killed people. We should expect the same impact in Florida,” the governor warned.
As of 6 p.m. EDT Thursday, Matthew was about 145 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, moving toward the city at about 14 mph. With hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 60 miles, Matthew could wreak havoc along the coast even
if its center stayed offshore.
Many people boarded up their homes and businesses and left them to the mercy of the storm.
“We’re not going to take any chances on this one,” said Daniel Myras, who struggled to find enough plywood to protect his restaurant, the Cruisin Cafe, two blocks from the Daytona Beach boardwalk.
He added: “A lot of people here, they laugh, and say they’ve been through storms before and they’re
not worried. But I think this is the one that’s going to give us a wake-up call.”
The hurricane picked up wind speed as it closed in, growing from a possibly devastating Category 3 storm to a potentially catastrophic Category 4. Forecasters said it could dump up to 15 inches of rain in some spots and cause a storm surge of 9 feet or more.
They said the major threat to the Southeast would not be the winds — which newer buildings can withstand — but the massive surge of seawater that could wash over coastal communities along a 500mile
stretch from South Florida to Charleston, S.C., area.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Florida and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and personnel to protect lives and property.
The Fort Lauderdale airport shut down, and the Orlando airport planned to do so as well. Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights Thursday and Friday, many of them in or out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Amtrak suspended train service between Miami and New York, and cruise lines rerouted ships to avoid the storm, which in some cases
will mean more days at sea.
Orlando’s world-famous theme parks — Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld — all closed.
Patients were transferred from two Florida waterfront hospitals and a nursing home near Daytona Beach to safer locations.
Thousands of people hunkered down in schools converted to shelters, and inland hotels in places such as Charlotte, N.C., reported brisk business.
At the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., NASA no longer has to worry about rolling
space shuttles back from the launch pad to the hangar because of hurricanes because the shuttles have been retired. But the private spaceflight company SpaceX was concerned about the storm’s effect on its leased seaside pad.
As evening fell, the winds picked up along Vero Beach, midway between West Palm Beach and Cape Canaveral, stripping away palm fronds, ripping awnings and blowing sand that stung the face. Waves crashed on the beach, and rain came in short bursts.
The last Category 3 storm or higher to hit the
U.S. was Wilma in October 2005. It sliced across Florida with 120 mph winds, killing five people and causing an estimated $21 billion in damage.
Matthew killed at least 114 people as it roared through the Caribbean. Officials said at least 108 of those deaths were in desperately poor Haiti, where many towns were cut off by the storm and the magnitude of the disaster was just beginning to come into focus two days later.
In the Bahamas, authorities reported many downed trees and power lines but no immediate deaths.
Dark clouds in the sky at the Atlantic Ocean shore in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Thursday as Hurricane Matthew approaches.
Ocean waves crash into a pier at St. Augustine, Fla., on Thursday at Hurricane Matthew closes in on the state’s eastern coast.