Hundreds of thousands along the southeastern coast of the US have boarded up their homes and fled inland as Hurricane Matthew expected to make landfall late Thursday. Photo: Red Huber/Orlando Sentinel via AP
AS the death toll from Hurricane Matthew reaches 842 and continues to climb fast, a million people have been left without power, as the storm continues to wreak havoc accros Haiti, the Bahamas and the Florida coast.
In the US, the storm continues to move north, heading towards Georgia and South Carolina, with officials saying the storm’s worst is “likely still to come”.
The Category 4 hurricane has killed more than 842 people, most of those in Haiti.
Information trickled in from remote areas that were cut off by the storm, and it became clear that at least 175 people died in villages clustered among the hills and coast of Haiti’s fertile western tip.
With fatalities rising quickly, different government agencies and committees differed on the total death toll. A Reuters count of deaths reported by civil protection and local officials confirmed 842 people had lost their lives. Some 61,500 people were in shelters.
It comes as the first storm-related death was reported in the US. An unidentified 58-year-old woman in St. Lucie County, Florida, suffered cardiac arrest died after she could not be reached by medical personnel whose operations had been suspended, WPTV reported.
“We were unable to respond safely and, unfortunately, she died,” St. Lucie County Fire District spokeswoman Catherine Chaney told AFP.
To everyone in the path of Hurricane Matthew: Stay safe, and know that America is with you. pic.twitter.com/0KuidMhEHm
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) October 7, 2016
The US is sending a Navy ship to aid Haiti, a US defense official said overnight.
“The USS Mesa Verde has received an order to support the Southcom humanitarian effort in Haiti,” the official said. Its 300 Marines will add to the 250 personnel and nine helicopters already ordered to deploy to Haiti.
The final storm toll in Haiti is expected to rise even higher, with mass destruction reported across the south of the country, the poorest in the Americas.
At least 4500 flights were cancelled between Wednesday and Saturday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
All flights to and from Orlando have been cancelled on Friday and half scrapped Saturday. FlightAware expects that number to rise. Orlando’s world-famous theme parks – Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld – all closed due to the storm.
Thoughts prayers with the millions of people in the path of Hurricane Matthew. Look out for neighbors, and listen to your local officials. pic.twitter.com/6MoZdcmYmT
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2016
The US government is keeping Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump informed about its response to Hurricane Matthew.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson and the deputy administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Joe Nimmich, briefed the candidates by phone Friday. That’s according to a DHS statement.
Both candidates have issued statements and sent out tweets expressing concern about the storm and urging residents affected by it to be careful.
Haiti Senator Herve Fourcand said he expected the death toll to rise further as some areas hit by the powerful storm are inaccessible.
“Devastation is everywhere,” said Pilus Enor, mayor of Camp Perrin, a town near the port city of Les Cayes on the Haiti’s south shore. “Every house has lost its roof. All the plantations have been destroyed. … This is the first time we see something like this.”
Hurricane Matthew has strengthened to a Category 4 as it heads northward battering the Bahamas and Florida.
“This storm is a monster,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said at an evening news conference. “Matthew is likely to produce devastating impacts along portions of the east coast tonight.”
As the hurricane hashtag #PrayForFlorida gained traction online, many Floridians wanted the support diverted to those in Haiti and the Bahamas, who have been hardest hit by the hurricane, and where locals didn’t have the opportunity to flee from the eye of the storm.
While most people in Florida will likely have family and friends to stay with in safer areas, there’s always concerns about homeless people being able to find shelters, as well as stray or abandoned animals.
The hurricane is set to be the most powerful to hit Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005, which was a slightly-less powerful hurricane at Category 3.
US President Barack Obama has declared an emergency in Florida and later South Carolina, then Georgia.
Police in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, distributed waivers to residents who refused to evacuate. The poster included lines to fill in for next of kin. The entire coastline is under an execution order.
Four people were killed in the Dominican Republic, which neighbours Haiti.
SOCIAL MEDIA: Inside America’s monster hurricane
“Matthew has restrengthened to a Category 4 hurricane prior to reaching the east coast of Florida early Friday morning local time,” according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.
A category four is capable of bringing beach-eroding waves as tall as two-storey buildings and winds strong enough to snap trees and blow away roofs or entire houses.
The National Hurricane Centre said at 8pm Thursday (11am Friday AEST) Hurricane Matthew made landfall on the western end of Grand Bahama Island with maximum winds of 209km/h and tropical storm conditions were lashing the east coast of Florida.
The National Hurricane Centre website crashed about 11am (2pm Friday AEST).
#Hurricane #Matthew could have catastrophic impacts. Heed this important message from @TWCBryan if you’re in the storm’s path. #FLwx pic.twitter.com/u6sFkyZxRs
— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) October 6, 2016
The storm had weakened slightly and had 210km/h sustained winds, down from 225km/h. Matthew was about 120km east of West Palm Beach, Florida.
Florida’s Governor activated 3500 national guard troops, CNN reports.
Gov. Scott told residents in evacuation zones to go inland.
“You still have time to leave. Get out. There’s no reason to take a chance.”
Earlier he was more blunt in his warning: “Unfortunately this is going to kill people if they don’t get out”.
Despite the mass flight, officials warned a worrying number of people were not heeding the evacuation order.
It’s getting real. #HurricaneMatthew pic.twitter.com/17wfXB1icR
— Sara Sidner (@sarasidnerCNN) October 6, 2016
“People do not seem to get it and are not leaving,” Sheriff William D. Snyder from Martin County, Florida, told NBC News.
“I’m not saying this to be theatrical … I asked my captain of detectives if he had body bags, because if we get 140 mile-per-hour winds in mobile home parks, we are going to have fatalities.”
The mass exodus led to crammed highways, full hotels and the need to open dozens of hurricane shelters.
State governments have urged more than 2 million people to evacuate due to Hurricane #Matthew https://t.co/pbGwvPojCC pic.twitter.com/V1uBCjc4Yu
— CNN (@CNN) October 7, 2016
As people hurried to higher ground, authorities in South Carolina said a motorist died on Wednesday after being shot by deputies in a gunbattle that erupted when he sped away from a checkpoint along an evacuation route.
The looming storm also has led to gas shortages, though Florida Governor Scott said the state still has five days’ worth of fuel supplies.
Florida’s Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach, has issued a mandatory curfew from midnight through 7am Saturday local time.
And in Orange County, a curfew will start at 10pm and also go until 7am Saturday local time.
US President Barack Obama has declared a federal state of emergency in Florida and South Carolina.
He ordered federal aid to supplement state and local efforts, authorising the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to co-ordinate disaster relief efforts.
Speaking at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mr Obama said: “If you get an evacuation order, just remember that you can always rebuild. You can always repair property. You cannot restore a life if it is lost.”
Governor Scott said the state, already darkening from early outer rainbands of the life-threatening storm, could be facing its “biggest evacuation ever.”
“Everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit,” he said.
“If Matthew directly impacts Florida, the destruction could be catastrophic and you need to be prepared.”
Florida Keys, Miami and Fort Lauderdale escape damage
As it moved in the evening, Matthew stayed about 160km 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 local time north of West Palm Beach, which has about 1.1 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 Centre.
Earlier officials in the Florida Keys said the island chain got lucky and did not receive major damage from Hurricane Matthew.
Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said any schools, libraries, parks and government offices that had closed would be reopened on Friday local time.
All roads and bridges in the islands are open. The Key West and Marathon airports will open Friday, though flights may be delayed or cancelled due to the hurricane’s effects elsewhere.
Hurricane Matthew landed in the the Bahamas Thursday, October 6, bringing with it wind gusts well over 100 mph and expected rainfall of 15 inches. In these videos a local resident, Arnold Ageeb, watches as the strong winds rip the roof off a home right in front of him and bend palm trees in the capital city, Nassau. Credit: Arnold Ageeb
Coastal waters throughout the Keys were expected to rise up to two feet above ground, flooding some neighbourhood roads but not the narrow Overseas Highway that links the islands with Florida’s peninsula.
Matthew’s blast through the Bahamas brought harrowing reports of roofs blown off, windows shattering and water rising perilously, including a social-media post from one desperate resident who said, “I’m on a chest of drawers. Phone battery low.” There were no reports of fatalities from the National Emergency Management Agency.
After the storm passed and headed northwest towards Florida, residents emerged from their homes to assess the damage, which was not as bad as expected.
Many buildings had roof damage, but the integrity of the roofs and buildings had not been compromised.
Storm surges from Matthew caused several metres of water to come inland but flooding stopped short of entering homes.
Roads were littered with downed power lines and trees. Some were impassable. The hurricane unleashed winds of nearly 160km/h as it traversed the area.
Only those buildings with emergency generators escaped the dark. Earlier, several residents in western and southern areas of New Providence island, an area vulnerable to sea surges and heavy flooding, ignored repeated warnings to evacuate. The island includes the capital Nassau and is home to two-thirds of the Bahamian population.
A resident in an area southeast of Nassau took to Facebook to plead for emergency rescue.
“Help!” Tamico Gilbert posted shortly before noon. “Water [is] over [the] bed now.
“I’m on a chest of drawers. Phone battery [is] low.” Resort guests at the Beach Tower at Atlantis on Paradise Island were ushered into the ballrooms of a convention centre.
One employee, who declined to be named, said she screamed as she heard a loud crashing sound from the glass entrance to the lobby.
“The wind was pushing it and pushing it, and it was shaking. I screamed out as it shattered in the lobby.” Even the weather forecasters at the Nassau airport were told to evacuate their offices. They were loaded into a fire truck and moved to a safer building nearby, where they were able to resume their work.
Matthew may hit Florida twice
After Hurricane Matthew’s initial battering of the southeast coast this week, the long-range forecast shows it looping back around toward Florida next week, potentially striking the state a second time.
“While a loop back towards Florida and the Bahamas next week is not yet a sure thing, the increasing trend of our top models in that direction is a strong indication that Matthew will be around for a very long time,” said Weather Underground meteorologist Jeff Masters.
New NASA images estimates Hurricane Matthew?s rainfall exceeded 10 inches and, in some places, topped 25 inches. The image released on Thursday, October 6, shows the rainfall from September 29 through October 5 as the storm moved through the northeastern Caribbean. The red indicates rainfall in excess of 10 inches and pink for totals around 25 inches. The image shows wide areas of rainfall of 15-20 inches of rain in dark red and purple when the storm was over land., including the southern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Credit: YouTube/NASA
The fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, also whipped Cuba with 230km/h winds and torrential rains on Tuesday, pummeling towns and destroying livestock, crops and homes.
Kennedy Space Center braces for Matthew
At the Kennedy Space Center in central Florida, NASA and the private company SpaceX are taking precautions to protect their capsules and rockets.
SpaceX has been counting on Kennedy’s historic Launch Complex 39A to get its rockets flying again, hopefully in November.
SpaceX’s pad at neighbouring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station was damaged on September 1 when a Falcon rocket exploded during prelaunch testing.
NASA, meanwhile, has secured a new Orion capsule currently in development in a secure Kennedy building designed to withstand sustained wind of 183km/h and gusts of 201km/h. The capsule will be used to launch astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is closed on Thursday and Friday local time, with a 116-person rideout crew on duty to help keep things safe. The Cape Canaveral Air Force Station also was closed to non-essential personnel.
Bad time to cruise, fly, catch a train
Turns out this wasn’t the best week to plan a cruise — at least for those who signed up to float from Baltimore to the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos on the Carnival Cruise line’s Carnival Pride.
A total of 1600 passengers bought tickets for a seven-day trip to Freeport and Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas, and the island of Grand Turk in the Turks and Caicos.
The ship was rerouted at the last minute before it set sail Sunday, and instead of going to the Caribbean, headed north to New York.
After it left the Big Apple, the ship was supposed to make a stop in Saint John, New Brunswick, before heading south back to Baltimore.
But because of heavy weather conditions, it was forced to enter the Chesapeake Bay. It is now scheduled to arrive back in Baltimore next Sunday.
Airlines are cancelling hundreds of flights as Hurricane Matthew pelts the Florida coast with high winds and heavy rain.
The Fort Lauderdale airport shut down on Thursday morning local time, and farther north the Orlando airport expected to do the same by night-time.
By early afternoon, flight-tracking service FlightAware.com reported that 1500 Thursday flights within the US 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 cancelled 1300 more flights scheduled for Friday.
Delta Airlines said cancellations were likely to spread to coastal Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday.
And, adding to commuter pain, Amtrak suspended train services between Miami and New York.
Matthew heads for Trump’s resort
Hurricane Matthew is scheduled to hit Donald Trump’s prized Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where the Republican presidential candidate often spends his winter down time and has held numerous campaign events.
The club hasn’t opened for the season yet but campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks said the Republican nominee spoke with his employees on Thursday “to ensure they are safe and following instructions from local officials”.
“Sounds like they are taking the necessary precautions. We are hoping everyone is safe,” she added.
And while we’re on politics, South Carolina officials are extending the deadline to register to vote in this fall’s elections due to Hurricane Matthew.
The South Carolina Election Commission said on Thursday that applications postmarked by Tuesday, October 11 will be accepted. South Carolina’s deadline to register to vote by mail had been set for Saturday, October 8.
Post offices are closed Monday due to the Columbus Day federal holiday, and that’s another reason officials say they’re moving the deadline.
Online, email or fax applications are due by midnight, October 9. Due to Hurricane Matthew, some counter voter registration offices are closed through Saturday.
Wait and watch
Australian-born Darren Surch is among those who have decided to wait and see what path the hurricane takes.
Mr Surch, who lives in Charleston, South Carolina with his wife and three children, told News Corp he had booked a hotel 193km inland for the weekend “just in case”.
He said around a third to half of the port city had already left and those who were staying were well prepared as were authorities.
While not moving for the moment, Mr Surch said he wouldn’t hesitate to evacuate if it was clear the city was going to be directly in the storm’s path.
“It’s very slow moving,” he said.
“If the storm surge moves inland we will go but we won’t evacuate just yet.”
He said he had spoken to some people who were genuinely concerned about the storm but so far the evacuation was orderly ahead of the storm’s expected arrival on Saturday morning US time.
As the US braces for the killer storm, others are left counting the devastating cost.
Humanitarian aid organisation CARE declared “complete destruction” in a southern Haiti city.
And rescue workers reveal they have struggled to reach isolated towns on Haiti’s southern peninsula and are yet to learn the full extent of the death and destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew.
But with a key bridge washed out, roads impassable and phone communications down, the western tip of Haiti has been largely cut off a day after Matthew made landfall and there was no full accounting of the dead and injured in its wake.
This footage was taken by the US Coast Guard during a post-storm damage assessment flight over Haiti following Hurricane Matthew on October 5. ?The crew reported heavy coastal flooding and significant damage to infrastructure in southern Haiti as well as damage to highways, structures and houses along the northern region of Haiti and the south side of Isle De La Tortue,? said the DVIDS report. Credit: US Coast Guard
The storm forced the Haitian government to postpone Sunday’s presidential election, in part because some schools and churches that are used as polling stations are serving as shelters and police can’t get election materials to some districts.
A new date for the vote was not expected to be announced until next week.
While the capital, Port-au-Prince, was essentially back to normal in many spots, there was still widespread flooding across southern Haiti.
“There’s absolutely nothing we can do to protect ourselves here,” motorcycle taxi driver Joseph Paul said as he watched torrents of brown water wash over a road and deluge his low-lying neighbourhood in Leogane.
“This storm was too much for us, and we are at its mercy.”
Aerial footage shows damage caused by Hurricane #Matthew in Haiti https://t.co/ApeCzOQimW pic.twitter.com/xC2XC0mcHb
— CNN International (@cnni) October 6, 2016
The Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency says authorities have rescued at least 30 people who were trapped in their homes by floodwaters from Hurricane Matthew on the island of New Providence.
There has been extensive flooding across the island but no reports of any deaths or injuries. The island includes the capital, Nassau.
New Providence was drenched by Hurricane Matthew throughout Thursday. Forecasters predicted up to 30cm of rain and storm surge of around 5 meters over normal tide across the most populous island in the Bahamas.
Agency spokeswoman Lindsay Thompson said the government was still conducting a full assessment of damages across the island chain east of Florida and were waiting until the storm was clear of Grand Bahama before declaring the all clear for the country.
The hurricane blew across the sparsely populated eastern tip of Cuba on Tuesday night, destroying dozens of homes in Cuba’s easternmost city, Baracoa, and damaging hundreds.
In just three days in April of 2011, over 300 tornadoes battered the United States in one of the most extreme weather events in history – killing hundreds, and destroying nearly everything in their wake.