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Hurricane Matthew: Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston under the gun

(RNN) – Hurricane Matthew weakened slightly to a strong Category 2 hurricane as the eye wall hovers off the coast of Florida, flooding St. Augustine. 

Heavy rainfall and tropical force winds were felt as Hurricane Matthew moved north along Florida’s east coast into Georgia on Friday.

Forecasters are concerned about the potential storm surges, and are warning residents to evacuate coastal areas if they still can.

St. Augustine, FL is flooding with some water gauges reporting their third highest water levels. The two highest levels were from two previous hurricanes in 1898 and 1944, according to WJXT.

Hurricane warnings have been issued for Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina coasts as the forecast for Hurricane Matthew shows it moving closer to the Carolina coast. Matthew is not expected to weaken in the next six to 12 hours. Currently, Georgia Power reports 48,000 power outages as the storm moves towards the state.

Jacksonville, FL and areas near Savannah are under occasional tornado watches and warnings. The National Hurricane Center warns those in Jacksonville in high-rise buildings are at risk for wind damage. The higher up in the building, the stronger the winds will be. The St. Johns River in Jacksonville is also flooding due to the storm surge.

Charleston is already experiencing a three-foot surge from the storm, and center of the storm isn’t expected to hit that area until Saturday morning. Predictions range from 8 to 11 feet when the storm hits.

Tybee Island, which is right on the Atlantic Ocean is experiencing flooding. All 3,000 residents of Tybee Island were ordered to evacuate, but around 100 residents stayed behind, the Associated Press reports. Emergency services were discontinued Friday in Tybee Island, GA.

The hurricane is moving north-northwest at 12 mph with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, and it is located about 40 miles from Jacksonville, FL and 135 miles from Savannah, GA. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extend 185 miles out from the center.

Though the storm technically hasn’t yet made landfall, the western edge of Matthew’s eyewall brushed Cape Canaveral and Daytona Beach, FL, where the National Weather Service said wind gusts of up to 71 mph were reported. NASA reported their equpiment and facilities did not sustain major damage.

Wind gusts of up to 107 mph were reported at the U.S. Air Force wind tower network in North Brevard County, FL, Friday morning, and the National Weather Service’s Jacksonville Office said tropical storm winds had reached their area at around 9 a.m.

The Florida coast is experiencing storm surge, hazardous winds and heavy rain, and those conditions will move north with the storm.

Evacuations have been ordered for almost 2 million people in the path of the Category 3 hurricane, as it threatens to be one of the most dangerous storms in recent history.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered the evacuation for residents east of Interstate 95 and initiated contraflow on state highways to facilitate traffic.

WPTV reported that one person has died in connection with the storm, a 50-year-old woman who suffered a cardiac arrest. It is only considered a storm-related death because emergency personnel couldn’t respond to the emergency.

Hurricane warnings are in effect from North of Flagler/Volusia County line to Surf City, SC, and a hurricane watch is in effect from north of Surf City, SC to Cape Lookout, NC.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect from Volusia/Brevard county line to the Flagler/Volusia county line, north of Surf City, SC to Duck, NC; and Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.

Warnings and watches are canceled for Florida cities on the Gulf Coast and in the south and central parts of the state.

Forecasters expect the hurricane to slowly weaken over the next 12 hours and then weaken more significantly because of wind shear and drier air. Forecasters predict the storm will take a northeast turn on Saturday. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday morning that 22,000 people were in more than 100 shelters and road tolls in affected areas will be rescinded for 24 hours after the storm has passed.

Search, rescue and damage assessment efforts are being conducted in Florida, and so far no major issues have been reported, Scott said. 

“While the storm is still on, don’t go outside,” he said. 

From Flagler Beach, FL, to Edistto Beach, SC, including portions of the St. Johns River, life-threatening inundation of 6 to 9 feet may be possible, and a danger of life-threatening inundation will exist up to Cape Fear, NC. Of course, the flooding an area experiences from the surge depends on when in the tidal cycle the surge hits.

As of 4 p.m. ET, more than 800,000 Floridians were without power Friday, Florida Power and Light reported, but some customers already had their power restored. However, the Associated Press reported the number at 1 million. About 15,000 workers are in place to restore the power as soon as it is safe to do so. Florida Power and Light said that more outages are expected as the storm moves north.

Florida State Emergency Response Team said that 12 counties were under some sort of evacuation orders, with at least 10 of those mandatory. About 3,500 members of the Florida National Guard were activated, Scott said.

The entire Georgia coast was under hurricane warning early Friday morning, six coastal counties were under mandatory evacuation orders, and 30 counties were placed under a state of emergency. WTOC reported that Georgia Health System Brunswick Campus’ 180 patients were being evacuated.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal reported that 1,000 members of the Georgia National Guard have been activated and 1,000 more are on standby.

Bridges in the hurricane warning area of Georgia were closing, including the Talmadge Bridge in Savannah and the Sidney Lanier Bridge in Brunswick-Glynn County, according to Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security.

South Carolina and North Carolina were bracing for the storm, and both governors already issued evacuation orders.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley urged people in low-lying areas to move, as dangerous storm surges await. “The water that’s going to come in is going to be dangerous,” she said.

Sen. Tim Scott echoed the call to evacuate, tweeting “Staying behind isn’t courageous, but could force others to be courageous for you when (the) storm hits.”

There are 2,600 evacuees in SC shelters, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Coast Guard has suspended all South Carolina waterfront port operations.

Power to two coastal islands, Kiawah and Seabrook islands in South Carolina, may be cut off if water starts to flood substations, WCSC reported.

President Barack Obama has issued emergency declarations for Florida, South Carolina and Georgia.

On Friday, the president said that the U.S. was far from being clear of this storm, and FEMA is already in place to assist.

“I just want to emphasize that this is still a really dangerous hurricane,” Obama said.

He urged people in hard’s way to pay attention to local and emergency officials. “You need to pay attention to them. Do what they say,” he said.

Florida’s most famous theme parks, Walt Disney World, Seaworld and Universal Orlando, all closed early Thursday and will remain closed Friday.

About 4,500 flights have been canceled overall between Wednesday and Saturday, the Associated Press reported.

Flights at Miami International Airport were expected to “gradually resume” Friday after airlines canceled flights on Thursday, the airport tweeted.

Flights at Orlando International were suspended by 8 p.m. Thursday. The airport said it didn’t anticipate flights to resume until Saturday.

Meanwhile, flight cancellations were spreading north, with the airport at Myrtle Beach, SC, already experiencing cancellations, WMBF said.

South Carolina extended their online voter registration by one day because of the storm, WCSC reported.

So far Florida has not extended its voter registration, CNN reported, despite calls to do so from the Clinton campaign.

The hurricane has already killed at more than 800 in Haiti, Reuters reported. The Bahamas faced the brunt of the storm as it approached the mainland United States.

Authorities expect the death toll to rise as the recovery process continues.

The storm was the first Category 4 Hurricane to hit Haiti in more than 50 years.

Copyright 2016 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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