OMI­NOUS MATTHEW BEARS DOWN ON FLA.

Mil­lions of peo­ple urged to evac­u­ate as pow­er­ful storm ap­proaches coast

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

WILL VRAGOVIC — TAMPA BAY TIMES VIA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dark clouds in the sky at the At­lantic Ocean shore in Day­tona Beach, Fla., on Thurs­day as Hur­ri­cane Matthew ap­proaches.

MATT STAMEY — THE GAINESVILLE SUN VIA THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ocean waves crash into a pier at St. Augustine, Fla., on Thurs­day at Hur­ri­cane Matthew closes in on the state’s eastern coast.

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