‘Mon­ster’ Hur­ri­cane Matthew closes in on Florida

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Mike Sch­nei­der and Kelli Kennedy

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. >> Hur­ri­cane Matthew pelted Florida with heavy rains as the deadly storm steamed ever closer to the coast with po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic winds of 130 mph Thurs­day. Two 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, and had al­ready left more than 280 dead in its wake across the Caribbean.

“This storm’s a mon­ster,” Gov. Rick Scott warned as it started lash­ing the state with pe­ri­odic heavy rains and squalls 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.

But by Thurs­day night, more than 80,000 homes and busi­nesses were with­out power. Streets in Vero Beach were par­tially cov­ered with wa­ter, and ho­tel guests in Or­lando were told to stay in­side, though a few sneaked out to smoke or watch the rain.

The lobby of the Loews Sap­phire Falls Re­sort was crowded with peo­ple and pets, in­clud­ing dogs oc­ca­sion­ally snap­ping at each other. Some meals were served buf­fet style while other peo­ple waited more than 2 hours for a pizza de­liv­ery.

The hur­ri­cane was ex­pected to blow ashore — or come dan­ger­ously close to do­ing so — early Fri­day north of Palm Beach County, which has about 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple, and 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 would then prob­a­bly 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.

Many 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 the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama de­clared a state of emer­gency for Florida, Ge­or­gia 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. The Palm Beach In­ter­na­tional Air­port re­ported a wind gust of 50 mph with the cen­ter of the storm 70 miles off­shore, the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said. 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.

“I never get time off. I’m a lit­tle sad,” tourist Am­ber Klinkel, 25, of Bat­tle Creek, Michi­gan, lamented at Universal.

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, North Carolina, re­ported brisk busi­ness.

At the Kennedy Space Cen­ter in Cape Canaveral, NASA no longer has to worry about rolling space shut­tles back from the launch pad to the hangar be­cause of hur­ri­canes, since the shut­tle fleet is now re­tired. But the 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.

As peo­ple hur­ried to higher ground, au­thor­i­ties in South Carolina said a mo­torist died on Wed­nes­day af­ter be­ing shot by deputies in a gun bat­tle that erupted when he sped away from a check­point along an evac­u­a­tion route.

The co­or­di­na­tor for Haiti’s In­te­rior Min­istry in the area hit hard­est by Hur­ri­cane Matthew said the con­firmed death toll in that south­west­ern zone was 283. Em­manuel Pierre told The As­so­ci­ated Press late Thurs­day that he ex­pects the toll to rise as au­thor­i­ties reach re­mote places that were left iso­lated by the storm.

Bod­ies have started to ap­pear as waters re­cede in some ar­eas two days af­ter Matthew smashed con­crete walls, flat­tened palm trees and tore roofs off homes.

In the Ba­hamas, au­thor­i­ties re­ported many downed trees and power lines but no im­me­di­ate deaths.

As of 11 p.m. EDT, Matthew was about 125 miles south­east of Cape Canaveral, mov­ing to­ward the north­west at about 13 mph. With hur­ri­cane-force winds ex­tend­ing out­ward up to 60 miles, Matthew could wreak havoc along the coast even if its cen­ter stayed off­shore.

Ge­or­gia Gov. Nathan Deal or­dered an evac­u­a­tion of the en­tire Ge­or­gia coast, cov­er­ing more than a half-mil­lion peo­ple. It was the first hur­ri­cane evac­u­a­tion along the Ge­or­gia coast since 1999, when the state nar­rowly es­caped Floyd.

“We have a house that sits right here on the wa­ter and we kind of said good­bye to it think­ing that, you know, the house ... might not be here when we get back,” said Jen­nifer Banker, a res­i­dent of Ge­or­gia’s dan­ger­ously ex­posed St. Si­mons Is­land. “You know, we pray a lot and trust God to pro­vide.”

“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.” — Daniel Myras, Florida res­i­dent and restau­rant owner

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bumper-to-bumper traf­fic heads out on the SR528 beach line as mo­torists away from Bre­vard County on Thurs­day as Hur­ri­cane Matthew tar­gets Florida. Hur­ri­cane Matthew steamed to­ward heav­ily pop­u­lated Florida with ter­ri­fy­ing winds of 140 mph, and 2 mil­lion peo­ple across the South­east were warned to flee in­land.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Sain­tanor Duter­vil stands with his wife in the ru­ins of their home de­stroyed by Hur­ri­cane Matthew in Les Cayes, Haiti, on Thurs­day. Two days af­ter the storm ram­paged across the coun­try’s re­mote south­west­ern penin­sula, au­thor­i­ties and aid work­ers still lack a clear pic­ture of what they fear is the coun­try’s big­gest dis­as­ter in years.

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