US coast evacuated as ‘monster storm’ heads to Florida

Hurricane Matthew has strengthened as it moves towards the United States’ east coast. It is expected to hit Florida early on Friday and is set to be the strongest storm in the US for 12 years.

Officials say winds are picking up and thousands are without power in Florida as Hurricane Matthew approaches.

The National Hurricane Centre says the eye of Matthew is northwest of Grand Bahama Island, about 110 kilometres east of West Palm Beach, Florida, and a wind gust of 80 kph has been recorded at Palm Beach International Airport.

Florida Power and Light says more than 30,000 customers — about 24,000 in Palm Beach County alone — are already without electricity.

Evacuation orders were issued for areas covering at least three million residents and major cities like Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia lay in the path of the terrible storm.

Matthew has already battered Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas and US officials were taking no chances, warning that loss of life is a virtual certainty.

“This storm is a monster,” declared Florida’s Governor Rick Scott. “I want everybody to survive this. We can rebuild homes. We can rebuild businesses … We can’t rebuild a life.”

By 2:00 am on Friday the storm is expected to be off Port St Lucie, threatening Florida’s beaches and ports with sustained winds of up to 200 kilometres-per-hour.

“And when you get the wind you will get immediate flooding, strong rip current, beach erosion. The risk of tornados,” Scott warned.

“Think about this: 11 feet of possible storm surge. And on top of that, waves. So if you are close, you could have the storm surge and waves over your roof.”

Highways were jammed with people streaming inland to escape the storm, forecast to be strong enough to snap trees and blow away roofs or entire houses.

As US gas stations ran dry, frantic shoppers flocked to stores for batteries, transistor radios, bread, canned goods, bottled water, ice and pet food.

Poor and vulnerable Haiti remained essentially cut in half two days after Matthew hit, with routes to the devastated south cut by flooding. Local radio cited at least 283 dead.

At least four people—three of them children—were killed in Haiti’s neighbour the Dominican Republic and more than 36,500 were evacuated, with 3,000 homes destroyed, flooded or damaged.

The wealthier Bahamas, which had more time to prepare, was less badly hit and there were no reports of fatalities, but there were power outages, some roads were cut and there was property damage.

Ghost resorts

In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the normally bustling resort turned into a ghost town as tourists loaded up cars, cut short vacations and fled north.

“It was packed with people here yesterday and then we came today and it was like ‘Oh my God there is nobody here,’” said Kelly Allmendinger, a 26-year-old bartender.

Officials complained a worrying number of people were not heeding evacuation orders, and many communities set up storm shelters.

The fire service in St Augustine, northern Florida, issued a video message on Facebook warning that damage to the city was expected to be “catastrophic” and urging all holdouts to leave their homes.

“We as a city are evacuating,” said Fire Chief Carlos Aviles. “I cannot emphasise enough: we are encouraging you to leave.”

“If you are choosing to stay in St Augustine, you are choosing to do so at your own risk. There will be no public safety personnel to assist you.”

The largest shelter in the quaint beach city had reached its capacity of 500 people, and authorities turned frustrated residents back into the rain, pillows under their arms.

Miami International Airport cancelled 90 percent of its incoming and outgoing flights on Thursday and Walt Disney World, in Orlando, was to stay shut on Friday.

President Barack Obama spoke with the governors of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, pledging to provide them with all necessary federal resources to cope with the storm.



Date created : 2016-10-07

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