Florida, Georgia and South Carolina cities at risk from high water as South Carolina governor warns: This is going to hurt
Hurricane Matthew, weakened but still a formidable storm, continued to pound the northern Florida coastline on Friday afternoon, renewing fears of life-threatening flooding in Jacksonville and other low-lying, heavily populated cities further north, including Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.
After the category 3 storms punishing slow crawl up Floridas eastern coast earlier in the day, which left more than a million residents without power, focus turned away from the strength of its wide wind field and towards the threat posed by the substantial storm surge.
The National Hurricane Center downgraded Matthew to a category 2 storm in its 5pm advisory but said that the surge, forecast to reach up to nine feet in vulnerable areas such as the St Johns river that runs through central Jacksonville, could lead to life-threatening inundation during the next 36 hours as far as Cape Fear, North Carolina.
NHC senior hurricane specialist Lixion Avila said that Matthew, which killed hundreds in Haiti during its earlier march through the Caribbean, still had more misery to spread. We have been very fortunate that Matthews strongest winds have remained a short distance offshore of the Florida coast thus far, but this should not be a reason to let down our guard, he said in the advisory.
The water hazards remain, even if the core of Matthew remains offshore.
More than 300,000 coastal residents of South Carolina were urged to evacuate ahead of the forecast arrival of the storm early on Saturday, with the states governor, Nikki Haley, warning: This is going to hurt.
Our barrier islands, its the biggest concern we have right now, the fact that we need people to move. It will start to be too late for anyone to evacuate so we still encourage all of you to take shelter somewhere above ground.
Her fears were echoed by Barack Obama in a Friday afternoon address. Many of you will remember Hurricane Sandy, where initially people thought, this doesnt look as bad as we thought, and then suddenly you get a massive storm surge and a lot of people were severely affected, the US president said.
I just want to emphasize to everybody that this is still a really dangerous hurricane [and] that the potential for storm surge, flooding, loss of life and severe property damage continues to exist.
Obama also urged Americans to support the efforts of the Red Cross and other aid agencies to provide disaster relief in Haiti, where hundreds of thousands are homeless and in need of immediate assistance, according to the United Nations.
Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, Obama said. We know that hundreds of people have lost their lives and that theres been severe property damage and theyre going to need help rebuilding.