Georgia braces for hurricane
Updated 11:15 a.m.: Officials on the Georgia coast are warning that time is running out to flee Hurricane Matthew.
Chatham County emergency management director Dennis Jones told a news conference in Savannah on Friday morning that people had just a few more hours before powerful winds start hitting. He said “Once the wind starts blowing, we’re pulling all emergency services off the street.” Savannah police said they also will enforce a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
All emergency responders left Tybee Island earlier Friday as increasingly heavy rains at high tide threatened to flood the only road to the mainland.
Tybee Island Mayor Jason Buelterman was taking names of people believed to remain on the island and had police officers calling them. Buelterman attributed some people’s complacency to the fact that the area hasn’t had a major storm for some time.
He remarked: “This is what happens when you don’t get hit by a hurricane for 100 years.”
Tybee Island resident Jeff Dickey had been holding out hope that the forecast might shift and spare his waterfront home, but by Friday morning Matthew was still on track to hug the Georgia coast, so he decided not to take any chances.
With soaking rain from Matthew’s outer bands already falling, he loaded a diesel-powered generator into his pickup truck.
Most of the island’s 3,000 residents had evacuated over the past two days. Dickey, his mother and his two daughters were among several last-minute evacuees leaving Tybee Island early Friday.
Coast Guard closes Port of Charlotte
Updated 11:15 a.m.: The U.S. Coast Guard has closed the Port of Charleston as Hurricane Matthew approaches South Carolina. The agency says no vessels may leave Charleston or enter the port.
The Coast Guard also announced that its smaller boats have been removed from the water and larger ones have moved to safe harbor.
The Coast Guard said it will be suspending search-and-rescue missions during the height of the storm and its helicopters will not be flying.
Tropical storm force winds are expected to be felt along the South Carolina coast later Friday.
Most intense winds offshore… for now
Updated 11:15 a.m.: Senior hurricane specialist Lixion Avila says Hurricane Matthew’s most intense winds have fortunately remained “a short distance offshore,” but Florida’s coast isn’t in the clear yet.
The hurricane center says the western eyewall, where the most intense winds are found, was expected to cross over or very near the coasts of northeastern Florida and Georgia on Friday.
Avila noted that it would take “only a small deviation to the left” to bring the winds onshore.
Avila said people riding out the storm in high-rise buildings will experience stronger winds than people sheltering at ground level. At the top of a 30-story building, Matthew’s winds could reach speeds of 130 mph or more — Category 4 strength, even if the hurricanes winds at the surface only sustain Category 3 strength.
Forecasters say storm surge and inland flooding remain potentially life-threatening hazards even if Matthew remains offshore.
Obama warns it’s ‘still a really dangerous hurricane’
Updated 11 a.m.: President Barack Obama is warning that Matthew is “still a really dangerous hurricane.”
Meeting in the Oval Office on Friday with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Obama said he was concerned about storm surge and that as the hurricane moves north, areas such as Jacksonville, Florida, and Georgia might be less prepared.
Obama told those living in affected areas that, “If they tell you to evacuate, you need to get out of there and move to higher ground.”
He noted that “because storm surge can move very quickly … people can think that they’re out of the woods and then suddenly get hit, and not be in a positon in which they and their families are safe.”
The president pleaded with people to listen to the warnings of state emergency personnel “because we can always replace property, but we cannot replace lives.”
Airlines cancel 4,500 flights
Updated 10:45 a.m.: Hurricane Matthew continues to cause problems for travelers, with 4,500 flights canceled so far between Wednesday and Saturday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
All flights to and from Orlando have been canceled 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.
As the storm moves north, so do cancellations, with Atlanta, Charleston and Savannah taking the largest hits.
Airports in Southern Florida are reopening, however, with flights expected to resume at midday. Airlines moved planes and crews out of the storm’s path and must now fly them back into the region.
American Airlines saw its first arrival at its Miami hub at 9:05 a.m. with a flight from Sao Paulo.
Florida governor warns danger still exists
Update 10:30 a.m.: Florida Gov. Rick Scott is cautioning Floridians that Hurricane Matthew could still do substantial damage before it passes by the northeast end of the state.
Scott on Friday warned that while the main eye of the storm has remained offshore as it brushes the eastern coast, it could still bring tremendous damage and flooding, especially to low-lying areas along the St. Johns River, including downtown Jacksonville.
Scott said the hurricane “still has time to do a direct hit” and he remarked that “the worst part of this is yet to come.”
Hurricane Matthew approached the state overnight, bringing damaging winds and lots of rain. State officials said that as of 9 a.m. there were nearly 600,000 people without power. Some of the hardest hit counties were Brevard, Indian River and Volusia, where more than half of the customers in those counties were without power.
State officials during an internal emergency management briefing said they anticipated that more than 1 million Floridians could eventually be without power.
N.C. governor worries about heavy rains to come
Update 10:15 a.m.: North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says he’s worried about current projections of Hurricane Matthew that show the storm could lead to heavier rains than previously estimated at or near the coast and power outages from high winds.
McCrory said Friday morning that rainfall totals could exceed a foot in parts of southeastern North Carolina, with the most activity Friday night through Sunday morning. He said in a storm media briefing that wind gusts could push above 65 mph and that citizens should be prepared to remain without electricity for some time because utilities may have to focus first on other affected regions.
He says the North Carolina National Guard and emergency equipment are being assembled, including high-water vehicles and swift-water rescue teams. The state also is providing a helicopter rescue team and other resources to South Carolina. McCrory says a mobile hospital unit is ready to go to Florida when it’s safe to do so.
At Fort Bragg, soldiers are prepared to deploy on short notice if they are called to assist those who suffer from damage or other problems because of the hurricane.
Weather not fit for man nor beast
Updated 9:50 a.m.: Humans aren’t the only ones hunkering down as Hurricane Matthew batters Florida. A stork has apparently found refuge in a zoo bathroom.
The St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park has shared a photo of a marabou stork inside a bathroom at the facility. The zoo’s Facebook page jokes in the caption, “no species discrimination in this bathroom!”
The stork isn’t the only animal taking cover from the storm. The zoo also shared photos of young alligators swimming indoors in plastic tubs and other birds walking around freely inside a building.
The zoo says it has moved all of its birds and mammals inside.
Georgia closes barrier island bridges
Updated 9:30 a.m.: Georgia transportation officials are closing a bridge that is one of the main routes between the mainland and the barrier islands off Brunswick in anticipation of high winds from Hurricane Matthew.
The Georgia Department of Transportation said in a news release that the Sidney Lanier Bridge would close at 10 a.m. Friday and would remain closed at least until strong winds subside.
The state’s tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge, the Sidney Lanier Bridge is a primary route to the Golden Isles — including Jekyll Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island and Little St. Simons Island — from Interstate 95.
Transportation officials say high winds, particularly at the bridge’s elevation, would likely make it difficult for drivers to control their vehicles, so the bridge is being closed for the safety of the public.
‘It felt like nothing’
Updated 9:30 a.m.: Winds from Hurricane Matthew blew off the door of Darrell Etheridge’s garage and tore down the banister to his upstairs neighbor’s apartment, but the Vero Beach resident said the storm was no big deal.
Etheridge stayed in his apartment about two blocks from the ocean during the storm.
He said the winds howling “sounded like a pack of wolves,” but added, “I got off damn good.”
There was no flooding and he had power for most of the night Thursday, only losing cable TV.
As he put it, “It was nothing. It felt like nothing.”
Vero Beach is south of the Melbourne/Cape Canaveral area.
Minor damage at Kennedy Space Center
Updated 9:15 a.m.: Early Friday, NASA reported what appeared to be mostly minor damage at Kennedy Space Center.
An office building suffered some roof damage, and parked cars had damage as well.
NASA spokesman George Diller, part of the 116-person ride out crew, said there have been some spotty power outages on site, and loss of air conditioning and water pressure in places.
Hundreds calling 911 in Volusia County, Florida
Updated 9 a.m.: A sheriff’s spokesman says hundreds of callers are dialing 911 as Hurricane Matthew pounds central Florida’s coastline.
Volusia County Sheriff’s spokesman Gary Davidson says at least four callers reported trees falling onto their homes in the Daytona Beach area after 7:30 a.m. Friday.
In one case, Davidson says a neighbor told dispatchers that the family got out safely after a tree collapsed on a home in Daytona Beach.
Another caller reported ceiling damage after a tree fell onto a house in nearby Ormond Beach.
No injuries were reported in any of these cases.
South Carolina getting rain
Updated 8:45 a.m.: Rains from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew are already spinning onto the South Carolina coast. And the National Weather Service says that tropical storm force winds of more than 40 mph will begin raking the coast on Friday afternoon – extending farther into inland areas Friday evening.
Although Matthew is projected to stay offshore, sustained hurricane gusts of 80 mph are expected on the immediate coast. Forecasters say winds from the storm likely will damage trees and weaker structures and bring widespread power outages.
The forecast calls for between 8 and 14 inches of rain in places along the coast with as much as 4 inches in locations father inland. Dangerous waves and rip currents are expected along the coast during the storm with storm surge of 4 to 8 feet.
Meanwhile Joint Base Charleston has been closed until further notice the hurricane approaches. The base consists of Charleston Air Force Base, the Charleston Naval Weapons station and two other facilities near Charleston.
Georgia-South Carolina football game moved to Sunday
Updated 8:20 a.m.: The time has been set for the Georgia-South Carolina football game in Columbia on Sunday that was rescheduled because of the threat of Hurricane Matthew.
South Carolina officials announced late Thursday that the game will be played at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.
The game had been scheduled Saturday night in Columbia but is being delayed because of Hurricane Matthew.
School officials say they consulted with Georgia and the Southeastern Conference before making the decision.
Officials say they are consulting with the governor’s office and state and local law enforcement. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said earlier this week that state troopers would not be available to help with traffic for the game. But Richland County sheriff’s deputies and Columbia police are expected to help.
The school says it will be able to handle traffic, security and other game day operations.
‘Scary as heck’
Updated 8 a.m.: Robert Tyler had feared a storm surge flooding his street, which is only two blocks from the Cape Canaveral beach.
But he and his wife, Georgette, felt fortunate Friday morning when they looked out the front door of their one-story cinder block apartment and there wasn’t much water.
The oak trees held up. Tree branches littered the road and he could hear the transformers blowing up overnight. But his home didn’t appear to have damage on first inspection and his vehicles were unharmed.
He says it was “scary as heck” overnight, adding that at one point “it felt like the windows were going to blow even though they all were covered with plywood.”
In the end, he says he’s just “glad we didn’t hear the ocean coming down our street.”
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Hurricane Matthew spun dangerously close to Florida’s Atlantic coast Friday morning, scraping the shore with howling wind and heavy rain that left more than 476,000 without power.
Matthew was downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane overnight with the strongest winds of 120 mph just offshore as the storm pushed north, threatening hundreds of miles of coastline in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. A 107 mph gust was recorded in Cape Canaveral.
Two million people were told to move inland to escape a potentially catastrophic blow from a storm that left more than 280 dead in its wake across the Caribbean, but many hunkered down and hoped for the best.
Some people who refused to evacuate were stranded and called for help early Friday, but were told to stay put until conditions improved enough for paramedics and firefighters to get to them, said Brevard County Emergency Operations spokesman David Waters.
“A family called in that the roof just flew off their home on Merritt Island,” Waters said.
It was a scene officials hoped to avoid in other cities as the storm pushed north.
In Jacksonville, where 500,000 people were told to evacuate, Mayor Lenny Curry warned that authorities would not be able to help them during the worst of the storm.
“You need to leave, if you do not leave you will be on your own,” Curry said.
Despite dire warnings, many people along the Florida coast decided to take their chances.
In Cape Canaveral, John Long rode out the storm in his 32-foot camper in a park about half a mile from the beach.
He lost power shortly before dawn but quickly fired up his generator. Small tree branches battered the vehicle but the large ones on the park’s giant oak trees didn’t fall.
“It was kind of loud and kind of shaky but nothing that caused too much concern,” he said.
Robert Tyler had feared a storm surge flooding his street, which is only two blocks from the Cape Canaveral beach.
But he and his wife, Georgette, felt fortunate Friday morning when they looked out the front door of their one-story cinder block apartment and there wasn’t much water.
Tree branches littered the road and he could hear the transformers blowing up overnight, but his home didn’t appear to have damage on first inspection and his vehicles were unharmed.
“Overnight, it was scary as heck. That description of a freight train is pretty accurate. At one point it felt like the windows were going to blow even though they all were covered with plywood,” he said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott called it a “blessing” Friday morning that so far Florida was avoiding a direct hit as the storm sliced northward.
Still Scott stressed during a television appearance on “CBS This Morning” and NBC’s “Today” show that there was still time for people living in the Jacksonville area to evacuate. The storm was expected to bring a large volume of water onshore and Scott noted there are a lot of low-lying areas in northeast Florida.
“There’s no reason to be taking a risk,” he said.
Moe than 1.5 million people in Florida were asked to evacuate ahead of Matthew, the first major hurricane storm to hit the state in 11 years.
The number of homes and businesses without power jumped by the hour as the storm edged closer to the coast. More than 476,000 were in the dark Friday morning.
As of 8 a.m. EDT Friday, the hurricane was hugging the coast of central Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center. Matthew was centered about 35 miles north-northeast of Cape Canaveral and moving north-northwest around 13 mph.
After Florida, forecasters said Matthew would probably hug the coast of Georgia and South Carolina over the weekend before veering out to sea — perhaps even looping back toward Florida in the middle of next week as a tropical storm.
The hurricane had been a potentially catastrophic Category 4 storm, but weakened slightly early Friday to a Category 3. Forecasters said it could dump up to 15 inches of rain in some spots and cause a storm surge of 9 feet or more.
They said the major threat to the Southeast would not be the winds — which newer buildings can withstand — but the massive surge of seawater that could wash over coastal communities along a 500-mile stretch from South Florida to the Charleston, South Carolina, area.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and personnel to protect lives and property.
The Fort Lauderdale and Orlando airports shut down. Airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights Thursday and Friday, many of them in or out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Amtrak suspended train service between Miami and New York, and cruise lines rerouted ships to avoid the storm, which in some cases will mean more days at sea.
Orlando’s world-famous theme parks — Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld — all closed.
“I never get time off. I’m a little sad,” tourist Amber Klinkel, 25, of Battle Creek, Michigan, lamented at Universal.
Patients were transferred from two Florida waterfront hospitals and a nursing home near Daytona Beach to safer locations.
Thousands of people hunkered down in schools converted to shelters, and inland hotels in places such as Charlotte, North Carolina, reported brisk business.
At the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, NASA no longer has to worry about rolling space shuttles back from the launch pad to the hangar because of hurricanes, since the shuttle fleet is now retired. But the spaceflight company SpaceX was concerned about the storm’s effect on its leased seaside pad.
The last Category 3 storm or higher to hit the U.S. was Wilma in October 2005. It sliced across Florida with 120 mph winds, killing five people and causing an estimated $21 billion in damage.
With hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 60 miles, Matthew could wreak havoc along the U.S. coast even if its center stayed offshore.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal ordered an evacuation of the entire Georgia coast, covering more than a half-million people. It was the first hurricane evacuation along the Georgia coast since 1999, when the state narrowly escaped Floyd.
“We have a house that sits right here on the water and we kind of said goodbye to it thinking that, you know, the house … might not be here when we get back,” said Jennifer Banker, a resident of Georgia’s dangerously exposed St. Simons Island. “You know, we pray a lot and trust God to provide.”
Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press reporters Holbrook Mohr in Orlando; Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jennifer Kay, Freida Frisaro, Curt Anderson in Miami; Marcia Dunn in Cape Canaveral, Florida; Janelle Cogan in Orlando, Florida; Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeffrey Collins on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina; Jack Jones and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; and Bruce Smith in Charleston, South Carolina, contributed to this report.