Matthew down to CAT 2, toll: 900 Haiti, 4 Florida

Matthew down to CAT 2, toll: 900 Haiti, 4 Florida
A damaged gas station is seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew in Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 8, 2016. REUTERS/Phelan Ebenhack

(JACKSONVILLE BEACH, FL/CHARLESTON, SC) Hurricane Matthew's winds diminished on Saturday as it headed towards the Carolinas after killing almost 900 people in Haiti and causing major flooding and widespread power outages in the southeastern United States.

The storm, which left flooding and wind damage in Florida, was soaking coastal Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday, but packing a diminished punch. Wind speeds had dropped to less than 85 miles per hour (135 kph), making it a Category 1 hurricane, the weakest on the Saffir-Simpson scale of 1 to 5.

At least four deaths in Florida were attributed to the storm, which knocked out power to least 1.5 million households and businesses in the southeastern United States. 

In Florida, 775,000 are still without power, according to state utilities, while in South Carolina 433,000 had no power, Governor Nikki Haley said. Georgia Power said at least 275,000 were without power in the state.

Roads in Jackson Beach were littered with wood, including sections of a historic quarter-mile-long pier, and foot-deep (15 cm) water clogged some intersections. Moderate damage could be seen on beach front businesses, with fences and awnings torn down.

"We rode out the storm. It wasn't this bad at our house, but here there's a lot of damage," said Zowi Cuartas, 18, as he watched people pick up shattered wooden signs knocked down by the wind and waves near the beach. "We were prepared to lose our house."

Streets in downtown Charleston were flooding Saturday morning up to the tops of tires on some cars. At the High Battery at Charleston peninsula's tip, waves were close to topping the sea wall with spray splashing onto East Bay Street.

"It blew like hell," said resident and writer Roger Pinckney, 70.

The toll in the United States was far less devastating than in Haiti, where at least 877 people were killed, a death toll that ticked up as information trickled in from remote areas, according to a Reuters tally of tolls from officials.

Matthew rampaged through Haiti's western peninsula on Tuesday with 145 mph (233 kph) winds and torrential rain. Some 61,500 people were in shelters, officials said, after the storm hurled the sea into fragile coastal villages. 

The Mesa Verde, a U.S. Navy amphibious transport dock ship, was en route to Haiti to support relief efforts. The ship has heavy-lift helicopters, bulldozers, fresh-water delivery vehicles and two surgical operating rooms.

FOUR KILLED IN FLORIDA

The NHC predicted the storm would possibly be striking the U.S. coast on Saturday morning or afternoon.

"Regardless of whether or not the center makes landfall, hurricane-force winds in the northern eyewall will lash much of the coast of South Carolina," an NHC advisory said.

Matthew sideswiped Florida's coast with winds of up to 120 mph (195 kph) but did not make landfall there.

Governors in several states held news conferences on Saturday morning, including Florida, North Carolina and South Carolina. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory warned that storm surges and high winds could cause serious problems. He said he was "extremely concerned" that the hurricane downgrade will cause residents not to take warnings seriously.

Forecasters warned of flooding as 15 inches (40 cm) of rain were expected to fall in parts of the region along with massive storm surges and high tides. 

Some 8 inches (20 cm) of rain had fallen in the Savannah, Georgia area where Matthew downed trees and caused flooding.

Though gradually weakening, Matthew - which triggered mass evacuations along the U.S. coast - was forecast to remain a hurricane until it begins moving away from the U.S. Southeast coast on Sunday, according to the NHC.

President Barack Obama and officials urged people to heed safety instructions.

As the storm moved north, Florida officials urged residents who had evacuated not to rush back to homes that still lacked power on streets clogged with debris.

"You are going to continue to see some flooding, damage and power outages," Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry told reporters on Saturday, adding that the roads into the beach area would be reopened to residents around noon .

 




UPDATE [09:00 EST]: The first major hurricane threatening a direct hit on the United States in more than 10 years lashed Florida on Friday with heavy rains and winds after killing at least 339 people in Haiti on its destructive march north through the Caribbean.

  • Death toll rises to at least 339 in Haiti
  • Mass evacuations in four U.S. states
  • Storm's eye nears Cape Canaveral 

Hurricane Matthew packed gusts of 100 miles per hour (160 kph) as it tracked north-northwest along Florida's east coast, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory. The storm's eye was 25 miles (40 km) east of Cape Canaveral, home to the nation's chief space launch site.

"We are seriously ground zero here in Cape Canaveral -- hunkered down, lights flickering, winds are crazy," said resident Sandy Wilk on Twitter.

The storm downed power lines and trees and destroyed billboards in Cape Canaveral, reported Jeff Piotrowski, a 40-year-old storm chaser from Tulsa, Oklahoma.

"The winds are ferocious right now," he said. "It's fierce."

NASA and the U.S. Air Force, which operate the Cape Canaveral launch site, took steps to safeguard personnel and equipment. A team of 116 employees was bunkered down inside Kennedy Space Center's Launch Control Center to ride out the hurricane.

"We've had some close calls, but as far as I know it's the first time we've had the threat of a direct hit," NASA spokesman George Diller said by email from the hurricane bunker.

No significant damage or injuries were reported in West Palm Beach and other communities in south Florida where the storm downed trees and power lines earlier in the night, CNN and local media reported.

About 300,000 Florida households were without power, local media reported. 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.

Hurricane Matthew was carrying extremely dangerous winds of 120 mph (195 kph) on Friday, but is expected to gradually weaken during the next 48 hours, the hurricane center said.

Matthew's winds had dropped on Thursday night and into Friday morning, downgrading it to a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity. It could either plow inland or tear along the Atlantic coast through Friday night, the Miami-based center said.

Few storms with winds as powerful as Matthew's have struck Florida, and the NHC warned of "potentially disastrous impacts."

The U.S. National Weather Service said the storm could be the most powerful to strike northeast Florida in 118 years.

A dangerous storm surge was expected to reach up to 11 feet (3.35 meters) along the Florida coast, Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the Miami-based NHC, said on CNN.

"What we know is that most of the lives lost in hurricanes is due to storm surge," he said.

Some 339 people were killed in Haiti, local officials said, and thousands were displaced after the storm flattened homes, uprooted trees and inundated neighborhoods earlier in the week. Four people were killed in the Dominican Republic, which neighbors Haiti.

Damage and potential casualties in the Bahamas were still unclear as the storm passed near the capital, Nassau, on Thursday and then out over the western end of Grand Bahama Island.

It was too soon to predict where Matthew might do the most damage in the United States, but the NHC's hurricane warning extended up the Atlantic coast from southern Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina. More than 12 million people in the United States were underhurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.

The last major hurricane, classified as a storm bearing sustained winds of more than 110 mph (177 kph), to make landfall on U.S. shores was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

Jeff Masters, a veteran hurricane expert, said on his Weather Underground website (http://www.wunderground.com) that Matthew's wind threat was especially serious at Cape Canaveral, which juts into the Atlantic off central Florida.

"If Matthew does make landfall along the Florida coast, this would be the most likely spot for it. Billions of dollars of facilities and equipment are at risk at Kennedy Space Center and nearby bases, which have never before experienced a major hurricane," Masters wrote.

'AS SERIOUS AS IT GETS'

Roads in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were jammed, and gas stations and food stores ran out of supplies as the storm approached early on Thursday.

Governor Rick Scott warned there could be "catastrophic" damage if Matthew slammed directly into the state and urged some 1.5 million people there to evacuate.

Scott, who activated several thousand National Guard troops to help deal with the storm, warned that millions of people were likely to be left without power.

Florida, Georgia and South Carolina opened shelters for evacuees. As of Thursday morning, more than 3,000 people were being housed in 60 shelters in Florida, Scott said.

Those three states as well as North Carolina declared states of emergency, empowering their governors to mobilize the National Guard.

President Barack Obama called the governors of the four states on Thursday to discuss preparations for the storm. He declared a state of emergency in Florida and South Carolina, a move that authorized federal agencies to coordinate disaster relief efforts. Late Thursday, Obama declared an emergency in Georgia and ordered federal aid to the state.

"Hurricane Matthew is as serious as it gets. Listen to local officials, prepare, take care of each other," Obama warned people in the path of the storm in a posting on Twitter.

Hundreds of passenger flights were canceled in south Florida, and cancellations were expected to spread north in coming days along the storm's path, airlines including American Airlines, Delta Airlines and United Airlines said. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Neil Hartnell in Nassau, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Nick Carey in Chicago, Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C., Doina Chiacu in Washington, Joseph Guyler Delva in Haiti, Irene Klotz and Laila Kearney; Writing by Frances Kerry and Tom Brown; Editing by Catherine Evans)

(NEW YORK CITY, NY) - The Southeast United States is expected to be hit with fuel shortages in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, as the storm barrels toward one of the largest energy-consuming regions in the country. 

(VERO BEACH, FL) NextEra Energy Inc's FPL power company in Florida on Thursday more than doubled its forecast of power outages from Hurricane Matthew to as many as 2.5 million homes and businesses.

FPL said the storm already had knocked out power to about 25,600 homes and businesses, with about 12,900 still without service. On Wednesday, it predicted outages could reach 1.2 million of its almost 4.9 million customers.

"Some areas of our service territory may experience extended and repeated outages, while others may require a total rebuild of our energy infrastructure," Eric Silagy, president and CEO of FPL, said in a statement on Thursday.

Matthew was likely to remain a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale as it approached the United States, where it could either take direct aim at Florida or brush along the state's coast through Friday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, warning of "potentially disastrous impacts."

The company said it has a workforce of more than 15,000 ready to respond to the storm, including FPL employees and workers from other utilities and electrical contracting companies.

"As long as it's safe, our crews will be out in force restoring power as the first bands of severe weather hit, and we'll work continuously after the storm clears until all customers have power again," FPL's Silagy said.

(COCOA VILLAGE, FL) Mike Ryan packed his wife, daughter, three grandchildren, two dogs and three cats into a minivan and waved as they drove off on Thursday, leaving him behind to spend the night in his coastal Florida pub.

Ryan decided to stay put and guard his business despite warnings from officials from Florida to North Carolina for residents of coastal areas to head inland ahead of Hurricane Matthew, a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale that has already killed scores in the Caribbean.

"They're headed to Orlando. They'll be safe there," said Ryan, the 61-year-old owner of Ryan's Pizza and Pub, along the Indian River in Cocoa Village on the Atlantic Coast. "I have to stay here, to make sure the building is secure."

Ryan was far from alone in his plans to ride out the storm, which is forecast to bring 140 mph (220 kph) winds and a storm surge of up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) when it slams into Florida's coast on Friday. Up and down the coast, residents could be seen putting up wooden or metal storm shutters, bringing in lawn furniture and preparing for impact. [L2N1CC063]

"Time is up. You have to evacuate now if you are in an evacuation zone," Florida Governor Rick Scott told the 1.5 million residents of the evacuation zone in a morning press conference. "Just think of all the people the hurricane has already killed. You and your family could be among these numbers if you don't take this seriously."

'EVERYTHING'S BOARDED UP'

While traffic on highways west and north illustrated that tens if not hundreds of thousands were seeking safety inland, others relocated to Cocoa from more precarious spots, like nearby Merritt Island. 

"We evacuated Merritt Island. That's too exposed," said Sallie Ann Mills, a 78-year-old retired school teacher, as she sat on the front porch of her daughter's bungalow in Cocoa, nursing a glass of white wine and facing the intracoastal waterway. "Everything's boarded up. I think we'll be OK here."

Randall Rule, 60, said he had agreed to friends' pleas not to ride out the storm on his 31-foot (9.5 m) boat, which he'd secured with a 1,000-pound (454-kg) mooring and two anchors.

"I'm telling people that it might break in half, but it's not going anywhere," Rule said, sitting outside the Ossorio cafe, where plans to spend the night and provide security for the building. "Normally I just wait these things out on my boat, but I had a couple people tell me that if I stayed out there for this storm they were going to hurt me if I made it though."

Some residents experienced with hurricanes and their aftermath admitted to misgivings about staying put.

"We got up this morning and thought maybe we'd leave, but between the traffic and the gas lines, it's just too late. But we'll be OK," said Ray Oliver, 54, who is retired from the U.S. Army and responded to several major storms during his career.

"In the past, we always left. We always left when the kids were younger. You just can't take the risk," Oliver said.



UPDATE [13:20 EST]: Hurricane Matthew may strengthen to a Category 5 storm before striking the Florida coast starting Thursday night, according to the WeatherChannel.

 NWS-Melbourne's hurricane local statement Thursday morning:


WIDESPREAD EXTENSIVE TO DEVASTATING WIND IMPACTS WILL BE FELT. AIRBORNE DEBRIS LOFTED BY EXTREME WINDS WILL BE CAPABLE OF BREACHING STRUCTURES, UNPROTECTED WINDOWS AND VEHICLES. EFFECTS SUCH AS THESE RANGING FROM THE COAST TO WELL INLAND HAVE NOT BEEN EXPERIENCED IN CENTRAL FLORIDA IN DECADES. LOCAL WINDS WILL EXCEED WHAT OCCURRED DURING THE HURRICANES OF 2004. ANY EVACUATIONS AND STRUCTURE PREPARATION SHOULD BE COMPLETED THIS AFTERNOON. TRAVEL WILL BE STRONGLY DISCOURAGED BEGINNING AT DUSK. EXPECT WIDESPREAD POWER OUTAGES.

2.5 million residents could lose power for an extended period of time according to Florida Power and Light, who have already activated 15,000 employees for power grid repair post-storm.


(JUPITER/ORLANDO, FL) Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, strengthened as it barreled toward the southeastern United States on Thursday after killing at least 140 people, mostly in Haiti, on its deadly northward march.

As Matthew blew through the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday en route to Florida's Atlantic coast, it became an "extremely dangerous" hurricane carrying winds of 140 miles per hour (220 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

That made it a Category 4 hurricane and it was likely to remain so as it approached the United States, where it could either take direct aim at Florida or brush along the state's coast through Friday night, the center said.

Some 136 people were killed in Haiti, local officials said, and thousands were displaced after the storm flattened homes, uprooted trees and inundated neighborhoods earlier in the week. 

As the storm passed about 25 miles (40 km) from the Bahamas capital of Nassau, howling gusts of wind brought down palms and other trees and flipped shingles off the rooftops of many houses. Bahamas Power and Light disconnected much of Nassau as Matthew bore down on the town.

No structural damage was immediately visible, a Reuters witness said, and rain was fairly light. No fatalities were reported. 

It was too soon to predict where Matthew might do the most of its damage in the United States but the National Hurricane Center's hurricane warning extended up the Atlantic coast from southern Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina. More than 12 million people in the United States were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.

 

ROADS FILLED WITH EVACUEES

 

Roads in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were jammed and gas stations and food stores ran out of supplies as the storm approached with not just high winds but strong storm surges and drenching rain.

Florida Governor Rick Scott warned there could be "catastrophic" damage if Matthew slammed directly into the state, and urged some 1.5 million people there to heed evacuation orders.

“If you're reluctant to evacuate, just think about all the people who have been killed,” Scott said at a news conference on Thursday. "Time is running out. This is clearly either going to have a direct hit or come right along the coast and we're going to have hurricane-force winds." 

Scott, who activated several thousand National Guard troops to help deal with the storm, warned that millions of people were likely to be left without power. 

Florida, Georgia and South Carolina opened shelters for evacuees. As of Thursday morning, more than 3,000 people were being housed in 60 shelters in Florida, Scott said.

Federal emergency response teams were coordinating with officials in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina and stockpiling supplies. Those declared states of emergency, a move empowering their governors to mobilize the National Guard.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest encouraged residents in the path of the storm to heed warnings from local governments about evacuations and seeking shelter.

Schools and airports across the region were closed on Thursday and some hospitals were evacuated, according to local media. Hundreds of flights were canceled in and out of the Florida cities of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, industry website Flightaware.com said.

At about at about 11 a.m. EDT (1500 GMT), Matthew was 180 miles (290 km) southeast of West Palm Beach, the hurricane center said. It was heading northwest at about 14 mph (22 kph) and was expected to continue on this track on Thursday, the hurricane center said. The eye, or center, of the storm was moving between Andros Island and New Providence in the northwestern Bahamas.

Matthew was forecast to pass close to Freeport, on Grand Bahama, the most industrialized part of Bahamas and home to Buckeye Partners LP's BORCO oil storage terminal, Statoil's south Riding Point Terminal as well as pharmaceutical manufacturing. Grand Bahamas Shipyard, also in Freeport and used by Carnival Corp. for cruise ship repairs, was closed from Monday as the storm approached.

On Tuesday and Wednesday Matthew, the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean since Felix struck Central America in 2007, had whipped Cuba and Haiti with 140 mph (225 kph) winds and torrential rain, pummeling towns and destroying livestock, crops and homes.

The last major hurricane, classified as a storm bearing sustained winds of more than 110 mph (177 kph), to hit the United States was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

 

'MIGHT NOT HAVE A HOUSE'

 

In Florida, fuel stations posted "out of gas" signs after cars waited in long lines to fill up. At a Subco gas station in Orlando, the central Florida city that is home to resorts including Walt Disney World, the gas pumps had run dry on Wednesday afternoon. 

The shop was a stopping off point for coastal residents seeking shelter inland from the coast. Among them was Jonas Sylvan, 44, of Melbourne, Florida, who planned to hole up in a hotel with his wife, two daughters and dog. "We're just trying to get away from the coast," he said. "It's safer here."

Bumper-to-bumper traffic extended for more than 10 miles (16 km) on the main highway leading west to Orlando from the coast.

In the central Florida coastal city of Jupiter, people scrambled to make preparations.

"Our house is wood construction, so who knows what will happen," said Libby Valentine, 75, of Jupiter. "The whole idea is to stay safe and hope you have the grace to deal with the aftermath because you might not have a house."

Most stores were closed or planning to do so soon. A line of two dozen cars snaked out of a Marathon gas station and tied up traffic on a nearby road. Next door, the windows of a Sabor Latino Supermarket were covered with plywood and a hand-written sign said it closed at noon. Still people banged on the door, hoping to make last-minute purchases.

"What am I going to do now?" said Manuel Fernandez, 67, a construction worker who said he spent the last two days clearing all of the supplies out of the job site where he works. "Publix is closed, Walmart, now here, there's no place left."
 


The fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade slammed into the Bahamas early on Thursday, intensifying as it barreled toward the southeast U.S. coast where millions of residents heeded warnings to flee inland.

(VERO BEACH, FL) - Hurricane Matthew has killed at least 102 people, the death toll in struggling Haiti alone rising to 98, local officials told Reuters, as the storm headed northward on Thursday battering the Bahamas en route to Florida.

Many were killed by falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers. Southern and western Haiti bore the brunt.

Roadways in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were jammed and gas stations and food stores ran out of supplies as Hurricane Matthew approached, packing storm surges, heavy rain and sustained winds that accelerated overnight to around 125 miles (205 km) per hour.

Matthew, which killed at least 26 people and damaged swathes of homes in southern Haiti, was predicted to strengthen from a Category 3 to 4 storm en route to eastern Florida.

Landfall was expected there on Thursday night, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, extending its hurricane warning area further north into Georgia in a 6 a.m. EST advisory.

"Everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit," Florida Governor Scott told a news conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday. "If Matthew directly impacts Florida, the destruction could be catastrophic and you need to be prepared."

The four states in the path of the hurricane, tracked 255 miles (410 km) southeast of West Palm Beach, declared states of emergency enabling their governors to mobilize the National Guard.

Shelters in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina opened their doors after authorities, along with President Barack Obama, urged locals to evacuate their homes.

Federal emergency response teams were coordinating with officials in all four states and stockpiling supplies, Obama said.

Scott requested that Obama declare a pre-landfall emergency for Florida, which would bring resources including as food, water and waterproof coverings and double the active National Guard force to 3,000.

Schools and airports across the region were to close on Thursday and some hospitals evacuated patients, according to local media. Hundreds of flights were canceled in and out of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida, industry website Flightaware.com said early on Thursday.

'ALL BOARDED UP'

In all, more than 12 million U.S. residents were under a hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.

In Florida, fuel stations posted "out of gas" signs after cars waited in long lines to fill up.

"Every gas station I went to is empty," said motorist Charles Bivona in a Tweet late Wednesday. "Here comes Hurricane Matthew. Um, yikes."

Others, meanwhile, prepared to wait out the storm.

People stocked up on water, milk and canned goods, emptying grocery store shelves, footage from local media showed.

Residents and business owners boarded up windows with plywood and hurricane shutters and placed sandbags down to protect property against flooding.

"All boarded up and ready to bunker down. God be with us," West Palm Beach Florida resident Brad Gray said in a Tweet.

The National Hurricane Center said it was still too soon to predict where in the United States Matthew was likely to do the most damage.

Matthew is the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean since Felix struck in 2007.

On Tuesday and Wednesday it whipped Cuba and Haiti with 140 mile-per-hour winds and torrential rain, pummeling towns and destroying livestock, crops and homes.

The devastation in Haiti prompted authorities to postpone a presidential election.

(Reuters reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; editing by John Stonestreet)

Article by Doc Burkhart, Vice-President, General Manager and co-host of TRUNEWS with Rick Wiles
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