Hurricane Matthew hits Bahamas as Florida braces for storm’s arrival

Hurricane Matthew hits Bahamas as Florida braces for storm’s arrival


More than 2 million people along Georgia, South Carolina and Florida coasts are advised to flee as hurricane strengthens

Hurricane Matthew was pounding portions of the Bahamas early on Thursday and is expected to intensify on approach to Florida as much of the damage it wrought to Haiti remains unclear.

The US hurricane centre said Matthew was a category 3 hurricane, 295 miles south-west of West Palm Beach, Florida, with winds of 115mph but is expected to strengthen to category 4, either hitting Florida later on Thursday or moving out to sea.

If Matthew does come ashore, it would be the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Wilma in 2005. More than two million people along the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts have been urged to leave their homes.

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People
Residents return to their homes in the Carbonera community of Guantanamo, Cuba following an evacuation to avoid hurricane Matthew Photograph: Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

At least 16 deaths have been blamed on the hurricane during its week-long march across the Caribbean, 10 of them in Haiti.

Two days after Matthew crossed Haitis remote southwestern peninsula with roaring winds and flooding rains, local authorities and international aid workers still lack a clear picture of the storms destruction, and rescuers are struggling to reach affected areas.

Hours after Matthew swept in on Tuesday, bringing 145mph winds, Haitian government leaders said they had not been able to assess its impact. With a key bridge washed out, roads impassable and phone communications down, the rural south-western peninsula tip of Haiti remains isolated.

Children
Children sit inside a church damaged by hurricane Matthew in Saint-Louis, Haiti Photograph: Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

The eye of the storm is expected to remain just offshore as it hugs the USs eastern coastline on its path north through Thursday and Friday, but its path is unpredictable and landfall is still a possibility.

Conditions will go down pretty quickly tomorrow in the morning hours, said Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the US hurricane centre. Everyone in south Florida will experience at least tropical storm force winds, and if it makes landfall it will be far worse than that.

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We expect storm surge of three to five [feet] along the coast, and thats a serious concern. The greatest risk for loss of life is from storm surge. Most people think about the winds when they think about a hurricane but its really the water that takes lives.

Rick Scott, the Florida governor, announced at an emergency briefing earlier on Wednesday that mandatory evacuations were under way for Brevard Countys barrier islands, including Merritt Island and Cocoa Beach. Shelters would be open for displaced residents, he said, and those living in mobile homes or in flood-prone and low-lying areas should also decide to evacuate voluntarily.

Workers
Workers put up boarding in anticipation of hurricane Matthew in Miami Beach, Florida Photograph: Javier Galeano/Reuters

Our number one priority is protecting lives, Scott said. The storm has already killed multiple people and we should expect the same impact in Florida if people do not take this seriously.

In October 2005, hurricane Wilma was blamed for 35 deaths in the state and caused damage in excess of $20bn (15.7bn). Many residents were without power for weeks and there were significant fuel shortages, something Scott said Florida was better prepared for this time.

Bottled water disappeared from supermarket shelves as soon as it was restocked, causing shortages in many areas, and several filling stations in Coral Springs, Margate and Fort Lauderdale were closed and taped off on Wednesday morning, having sold the last of their fuel.

Barack Obama, during a visit to the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) in Washington, warned against complacency. This is a serious storm. Everybody needs to be paying attention and following the instructions of your local officials, he said.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/oct/06/hurricane-matthew-hits-bahamas-florida-storm-arrival-us

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