These hurricanes caused the highest number of fatalities in U.S. history.
MELBOURNE, Fla. — Hurricane Matthew roared toward the Florida coast Friday morning, leaving at least 283 dead behind it and fear looming in front of it.
The National Hurricane Center said that as of 11 p.m., Matthew, a Category 4 storm, was about 125 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral. The storm was packing maximum sustained winds of 130 mph. Florida Gov. Rick Scott says to expect threatening winds as strong as 150 mph, storm surges up to 9 feet and widespread power outages.
“This storm’s a monster,” 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.”
While the storm’s exact track could vary slightly as it locks into its final path in the sweep up from the Caribbean and out of the Bahamas, Scott said Florida “must prepare for a direct hit,” adding, “This storm can kill you.”
The hurricane was expected to make landfall 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.
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.
A USA TODAY motion graphic explains storm surge created by hurricanes.
Ramon Padilla, Veronica Bravo and Jacquie Lee, USA TODAY
By Thursday night, more than 60,000 homes and businesses were without power as Matthew’s outer boundaries starting to move into Florida coastal communities. 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.
An official from Haiti’s Interior Ministry told the Associated Press that Hurricane Matthew claimed at least 283 people after the storm struck Tuesday with 145-mph winds, torrential rain and driving storm surge. Haitian Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph called the death toll “very provisional,” saying authorities had yet to complete a nationwide damage assessment.
Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina are under states of emergency.
In Washington, President Obama declared a state of emergency in more than two dozens Florida counties as the potentially catastrophic storm approached.
The directive authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts to alleviate suffering caused by the hurricane.
The Department of Defense also stepped in and approved a request by the United States Agency for International Development to unlock $11 million in humanitarian and civic disaster aid in response to the hurricane, Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook told reporters Thursday. The U.S. Southern Command is overseeing U.S. military relief efforts in Haiti and a team arrived in Haiti Wednesday, Cook said.
“We have not seen a hurricane this strong in almost a decade,” said Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.) “It has already devastated Haiti, and has been building strength on its way to the U.S. . . . As a native Floridian, I am intimately aware of the devastation hurricanes can wreak. As the head of FEMA, it is my job to make sure that we do everything we can to prepare our communities for the oncoming storm and ensure that our emergency response efforts are ready to go as soon as we’re needed.”
West Palm Beach and the Cape Canaveral areas, home to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, however, were bracing for the main force of the storm beginning around midnight as it rolled northward.
In Haiti, officials dramatically increased the death toll Thursday night in that country to 283. At least four died in the Dominican Republic, Haiti’s neighbor on the island of Hispaniola. Deaths also were reported in Colombia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“The storm has already killed people. We should expect the same impact in Florida,” said Scott Thursday afternoon as Matthew’s outer bands of rain appeared.
The governor’s message was clear: “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. Time is running out. We don’t have much time left.”
The strong winds not only threaten to knock down trees, shatter windows and rip roofs from houses, but also churn up dangerous storm surges as high as 11 feet — at high tide —along the Florida coast. Forecasters say some areas could be drenched by up to 15 inches of rain.
The storm was expected to race up the coast this weekend as far as South Carolina then, in an odd twist, some long-range forecast models show Matthew potentially looping back around toward Florida next week, potentially striking the state a second time.
More hurricane coverage:
• Hurricane Matthew will hit today: Here’s what we know
• See every storm path in Florida for the past 100 years
• Here’s why South Carolina is better prepared for Matthew than it was for Hugo
• Airline cancellations soar to 2,700 through Friday
• ‘These guys are crazy,’ People hit the beach ahead of the storm
• Which ‘spaghetti model’ is best to gauge hurricanes
• A link to full coverage of Hurricane Matthew
In order to spur evacuation routes, Scott has canceled tolls in the affected areas, including the entire Florida Turnpike, Alligator Alley, Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, to help speed evacuation.
He said the National Guard deployment had been beefed up 2,500 and another 4,000 were on call for help with late evacuations and shelters. Scott said hospitals along the coasts were already being evacuated.
Before 6 p.m. Eastern time, flight-tracking service FlightAware.com reported that 1,500 Thursday flights within the U.S. had been scrapped, with the largest numbers at Fort Lauderdale and Miami. American Airlines, which has a major hub in Miami, was the hardest-hit carrier, followed by Southwest Airlines and JetBlue Airways.
FlightAware said airlines had already canceled 1,300 more flights scheduled for Friday. Delta Air Lines said cancellations were likely to spread to coastal Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday, the Associated Press reports.
In Orlando, Walt Disney World was closing all of its theme parks in the area.
In historic Savannah, Ga., a city of handsome antebellum mansions that hasn’t taken a direct hit from a major hurricane since 1898, many people heeded the order to leave.
“Hurricane Matthew is a storm not to be messed with,” Savannah Mayor Eddie DeLoach said. “If you decide to ride it out, do not expect us to be there to help you.”
Near Savannah, outside of the Tybee Time Bar on Tybee Island, bartender Brian Herfurt served beers to a group of neighbors who said they will stay for the duration in their apartment steps from the beach.
Their biggest concern, says Clint Troop, who has lived on Tybee for eight years, isn’t being able to leave the island – it’s getting back on.
“We don’t want to sit on I-16 or I-95 for eight hours and only go a mile and then not be able to come back home,” he says.
Steve Smith, drinking alongside and also planning to stay, said he has lived through the threat of storms for the 20 years he’s lived on Tybee. But this time, he said, he believes the storm will heavily impact the barrier island and inland historic Savannah.
“It’s going to do what it’s going to do,” Smith says. “I know it’s coming here, I don’t know hard.”
Rockledge and east Viera, Fla., looked like ghost towns by noon Thursday.
The construction signs and equipment that have cluttered Barnes Boulevard in Rockledge for months were almost all cleared as rain pelted the nearly empty roadway. Stores such as Publix and Walgreens remained open for only a few hours this morning, shutting their doors by noon. Only a Wendy’s remained operating as the day moved on, a line snaking around the drive-through about 3 p.m. Birds chirped as rain fell and the distant hum of power saws filled the air in subdivisions such as Chelsea Park.
Along the southeast coast, many motorists jammed highways. But still others took their departure in stride.
Along A1A Highway, Paul MacDonald took one last walk with his wife and daughter before they closed up their house on Delray Beach to ride out the storm.
While the storm clouds looked ominous and the forecast called for widespread destruction along their beloved coastline, the Detroit native said it could be worse. “It still beats the snow,” he said.
In Broward County, as Matthew closed in, a steady stream of shelter seekers walked in to the Atlantic Technical College Arthur Ashe Jr. campus. They carried bags of groceries, cases of water, blankets and pillows. Emergency management officials counted more than 1,400 people staying in 10 shelters as of Thursday morning. Broward County is under a hurricane warning.
“It’s going to be a long day,” said Doug Gordon, 60, a Port Everglades welder who decided it was too dangerous to ride out Matthew in the trailer where he is staying in Dania Beach.
Lynne Larkin, of Vero Beach, says she stayed put through three previous hurricanes, but the approach of a Category 4 Matthew pushed her — and her cat, Ginger Baker — to evacuate her condo this time.
“It’s a dilemma because it’s a great bunker now full of bottled water, gas grill, ice, food, etc. But everyone is trying to scare me to move inland where there is more flooding threat, and even shelters aren’t any sturdier than my home. Suffer in town, suffer at home?”
The governors of South Carolina and North Carolina have also declared states of emergency along the coast in anticipation of high-winds and life-threatening storm surges as high as 9 feet in some areas. In Charleston, city officials say the city has run out of sandbags after distributing 15,000 — more than for any other storm.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley urged residents to get at least 100 miles from the shore, reminding residents who’ve decided to stay that they could be putting the lives of law enforcement and emergency responders in danger, not just their own.
Roughly 250,000 residents and tourists fled South Carolina’s Low country by Wednesday evening ahead of the approaching storm. At least as many more are expected to evacuate Thursday.
Authorities say a motorist in South Carolina was shot and wounded by deputies during an altercation over a Hurricane Matthew evacuation route, the Associated Press reported.
Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis said a motorist knocked down some traffic cones at a check point in Moncks Corner and sped off.
The sheriff said when deputies finally caught up with the driver a few miles away he pointed a gun at deputies and started shooting. The sheriff said the deputies shot back, wounding the man who was taken to the hospital. His name and condition were not immediately released. No deputies were wounded.
Arek Sarkissian reporting from Tallahassee for The Naples Daily News; Stanglin reporting from McLean, Va. Contributing: Alan Gomez in Miami, Jane Onyanga-Omara in London, Elizabeth LaFleur in Greenville, S.C. and John Bacon in McLean, Va., Sara Pauson, Florida Today, Eric Connor, Greenville News.