ABC News(CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.) — Hurricane Matthew battered the Florida coast today with powerful winds, potentially devastating storm surges and torrential rain, leaving over 1 million people without power as officials made last-minute appeals for any remaining holdouts to get out of harm’s way.
Four people have died in Florida from the storm.
Officials in St. Lucie County, Florida, said two people died overnight when emergency officials could not get to them because of the storm’s strong winds. One victim, a woman in her late 50s, died from cardiac arrest, according to St. Lucie fire department officials. Crews could not safely respond to her location and the woman died by the time crews arrived, officials said.
Later in the night in St. Lucie County, there was a report of an unconscious 82-year-old man breathing with difficulty. “When it was deemed safe for emergency vehicles to travel it was reported to first responders that the patient had been taken to the hospital,” according to officials. The man was later declared dead.
The third fatality was this afternoon in Volusia County, Florida. A woman in her 60s went outside to feed her animals when a tree fell on her and killed her, according to Volusia County Emergency Management.
A fourth fatality was confirmed in Putnam County, located in Central Florida southwest of St. Augustine. A woman died when a tree fell onto her camper trailer, which was along Highway 17 near Crescent City, county officials said. A man who was in the trailer with her was able to escape with minor injuries.
An elderly couple in St. Lucie County was hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning after they had been running a generator inside their garage during the storm, officials said. The husband and wife were found unconscious Friday morning by neighbors and were transported to the hospital in critical condition.
The hurricane has already claimed hundreds of lives as it tore through Haiti and other Caribbean nations.
The storm is causing devastation along the northeast coast of Florida this afternoon, mainly in the form of catastrophic storm surge. The flooding struck a beach in Jacksonville this afternoon, inundating the area with water and crushing dunes.
Forecasters in Jacksonville had warned of a “worst-case storm surge scenario” and said “if a direct impact occurs, this will be unlike any hurricane in the modern era.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott told reporters this morning that he was particularly concerned about storm surge.
Matthew weakened to a Category 2 hurricane this afternoon, with maximum winds of 110 mph. As of 5 p.m., the storm is moving north at 12 mph.
The storm is expected to move near or over the coast of northeast Florida and the coast of Georgia through tonight, then near or over the coast of South Carolina on Saturday. It could make landfall near Charleston Saturday morning.
Officials in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina urged coastal residents to head inland as the most powerful Atlantic storm in more than a decade continued on its path along the coast.
President Obama this morning urged residents to pay attention to their local officials. While the focus of the storm is on Florida right now, he warned Georgia residents to be alert, as the storm will likely move north.
“We can always replace property,” Obama said, “but we can’t replace lives.”
Speaking to ABC News, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate told residents in evacuation zones in Georgia and the Carolinas looking at initial reports and thinking, “‘Maybe it’ll turn and it won’t be so bad’ -– you need to go now.”
“Many of these areas have not had this level of flooding since, like, the late 1800s,” he said. “We know some people don’t evacuate.”
He added: “It is already too late for some people in Florida. Just stay where you’re at, hold on because it’s just too dangerous to be outside.”
More than 1 million customers were without power in Florida today as hurricane warnings cover hundreds of miles of Florida’s east coast. A major hurricane has not struck Florida in over a decade.
A wind gust of up to 85 mph was reported today in St. Augustine, just south of Jacksonville.
Ahead of the storm, more than 1.5 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate as the governor deployed 3,500 National Guard troops to assist in storm preparations. More than 500,000 Florida residents are still in evacuation zones.
There were more than 20,000 people in shelters.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Scott said on “Good Morning America” today.
In Brevard County, Florida, the National Weather Service declared an extreme wind warning this morning as the western eye wall of the storm brushed by Cape Canaveral, home of the Kennedy Space Center, producing wind gusts in excess of 100 mph.
Scott had urged coastal residents to move to safe ground Thursday, warning, “This storm will kill you.”
In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered mandatory evacuations east of I-95 along the entire Georgia coast, which is home to popular beach towns like Tybee Island.
The storm is currently nearing Georgia, and will move parallel to the Georgia coast through 4 a.m.
Deal said this afternoon that crews are still extricating some people off of Tybee.
“There comes a point where we cannot jeopardize the lives of our first responders any further,” Deal said.
The governor added that he knows people who evacuated are anxious to return home, but they should not put their lives in jeopardy by going back too soon.
Deal said on Thursday, “I don’t intend to prosecute anyone for not leaving. … I think Mother Nature will take care of them.”
Deal said today that 9,000 people are in 30 shelters and 1,000 National Guardsmen have been deployed.
Deal told reporters Thursday night, “This is not Southern hospitality we are inviting to Matthew — we hope he leaves as soon as possible.”
In South Carolina, where the storm is expected to make landfall Saturday morning, possibly around 5 a.m., about 1.1 million people were ordered to move from coastal areas.
Gov. Nikki Haley said this evening that 355,000 people have evacuated and over 4,000 are staying in shelters.
“The best thing now is to just hunker down, stay in a safe place,” Haley said. “Don’t move, don’t try and move around, make sure you have your cell phones charged.
The storm is expected to hit South Carolina’s Beaufort County — just north of Savannah — during high tide in the middle of the night, Haley said, adding that she anticipates a large water event. It will move up the coast and will be over Myrtle Beach by noon Saturday.
Haley said this morning the state was preparing for major storm surges, winds, wet grounds, falling trees and power outages. There is “nothing safe about what’s getting ready to happen,” she said.
As North Carolina braces for intense winds and rains, Gov. Pat McCrory this afternoon called the storm potentially the worst flooding since Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
Coastal regions could see rainfall totals of 15 inches or more through tonight, Saturday and Sunday, McCrory said. Storm surge totals could reach 2 to 6 feet.
“What we feared is now happening in North Carolina,” McCrory said.
Eastern North Carolina will begin to feel impacts from the storm at around 5 a.m. Saturday and they will continue through the evening. By Sunday morning, the storm will move further out to sea.
McCroy said the most immediate concern is life-threatening rain and water, adding that some rivers are already at high levels from past flooding.
Hurricane Matthew has caused major transportation disruptions for much of the U.S, with more than 4,200 flights canceled between Wednesday and Saturday. The only airport that is currently closed is Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport; it is expected to reopen on Sunday at 8 a.m.
Amtrak suspended services in the southeast because of the severe weather.
Matthew tore through the Caribbean this week before reaching the U.S. In Haiti, at least 271 people have been confirmed dead, Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency told ABC News today, but Reuters, citing local officials, reports that at least 842 individuals have been killed as a result of Hurricane Matthew. However, authorities are struggling to gain a full picture of the death toll as communications are still down in certain areas.
Jean-Michel Vigreux, the country director in Haiti for the nonprofit group CARE, said in a statement Thursday that the southern part of the country is “now cut off from the rest of the country.”
He added that the city of Jeremie was in “complete destruction.”
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