Hurricane Matthew whipped coastal east-central Florida with fierce winds Friday while its powerful center teetered parallel to land, leaving hundreds of thousands without power as officials warned the worst damage could come farther north.
One of the biggest concerns ahead about the Category 3 storm: Potentially life-threatening storm surges in the Jacksonville area when Matthew nears northeast Florida on Friday afternoon.
Another worry: Though projections showed the storm still could go out to sea without landfall, it very likely will cross land with devastating effect, if not in Florida, then in Georgia or the Carolinas.
“(Matthew) will move into land at some point … because the coast turns (east) before it will,” CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers said.
The outer eyewall of Matthew — with winds of 120 mph at the center — was brushing the coast north of Daytona Beach as the storm moved north-northwest at noon ET.
Portions of the coast already have recorded 100 mph winds near Cape Canaveral, and storm surges of 10 feet still are possible for Jacksonville later Friday, Gov. Rick Scott said.
High water already arrived late Friday morning in St. Augustine, a coastal city 35 miles southeast of Jacksonville. A virtual river of water was rushing past a bed and breakfast business there, according to video posted by reporter Russell Colburn of CNN affiliate WJAX.
“20 people, including children, stuck in #StAugustine bed &breakfast. They say they’re getting worried, as the surge is about to come in,” Colburn posted on Twitter.
Special concern surrounded Jacksonville’s St. Johns River, which could be overwhelmed by water pushed into it by the storm.
“Just because the center of circulation is offshore doesn’t mean you can’t be the center of action (along the coast),” National Hurricane Center Director Richard Knabb said Friday morning. “It’s going to get a lot worse before it (has) a chance of getting better.”
Here’s what you need to know:
• As of noon ET, Matthew’s center was about 90 miles southeast of Jacksonville, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles from that center.
• At least one Florida death has been linked to the storm — a 50-year-old woman who died overnight after a heart attack in St. Lucie County, the county’s emergency operations center said. The center considers it a storm-related death because firefighters had to stop responding to emergency calls because of high winds.
• Nearly 827,000 customers statewide were without power Friday morning.
• Forecasters predict a storm surge in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina that could be as high as 9 feet, and as many as 15 inches of rain could fall from central Florida to North Carolina.
• The National Weather Service warned that some places hit by Matthew could be uninhabitable for “weeks or months.”
• The storm kicked up debris in Daytona Beach late Friday morning. Video recorded by journalist Robert Ray showed metallic, foil-like debris and other small objects rolling down one of the streets in the city.
• The storm has killed at least 276 people in three Caribbean countries. The majority, 271 people, died in Haiti, said Civil Protection Service spokesman Joseph Edgard Celestin.
‘Massive destruction’ possible
Gov. Scott said officials are particularly concerned about low-lying areas in Jacksonville, where there is potential for significant flooding.
He said all major roads and interstate highways are open, and no major road or traffic issues have been reported. In some of the counties that the storm has passed, it appeared that evacuations urged by local officials worked, he said.
Still, the governor said, the state was not out of the woods.
“While the storm is still on, don’t go outside,” Scott said.
More than 22,000 people were in shelters statewide, he said.
President Barack Obama urged people in coastal northeastern Florida and Georgia to heed the instructions of local officials as Hurricane Matthew approached.
“This is still a really dangerous hurricane,” Obama said at the White House Friday. “We’re not going to know for three, four, five days what the ultimate effects of this (storm) are.”
Major southern Florida population centers like Miami and West Palm Beach appeared to have avoided the worst of the storm, as the dangerous eye wall stayed around 100 miles off the coast of south Florida.
Parts of the Miami area saw tropical storm force winds, but higher hurricane force winds were a couple hundred miles further north. Winds knocked down power lines in Miami-Dade County, leaving less than 33,000 customers without power, Florida Power & Light said.
West Palm Beach officials said that although they had yet to make a full assessment, there were no major reports of injuries or significant damage early Friday.
A direct hit by Matthew, Scott said earlier in the week, could lead to “massive destruction” on a level unseen since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations in the state stretch from Miami to the Florida-Georgia border.
At least two counties were under curfew until 7 a.m. Saturday, officials announced. Orange and Volusia Counties on Thursday night instituted mandatory curfews. Those included the cities of Orlando and Daytona Beach.
Airline passengers were urged to call and check on the status of their scheduled flights before leaving for the airport. Florida airports had canceled hundreds of flights, most of them in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Fort Lauderdale closed its airport, airlines suspended operations in Miami, and Orlando’s airport closed Thursday evening.
Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina
As northeastern Florida braced for impact, coastal communities in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina also were on notice. The storm’s center could be near or over the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday, the hurricane center said.
• Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency in 30 counties near the coast and ordered evacuations for all counties east of Interstate 95.
• Of special concern is Tybee Island, a low-lying island east of Savannah, which is also under mandatory evacuation orders.
• In Savannah, Mayor Eddie DeLoach warned those who stay that they’d be on their own.
• South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley warned residents who didn’t evacuate to go to a shelter Friday. A major storm surge of 8 feet or more is approaching low-lying areas in the state, including Charleston.
• Although 310,000 people have evacuated the area, Haley says that’s not enough. Officials in some areas are going door to door, urging people to leave, and police in Pawleys Island near Charleston asked residents who decided to stay in spite of the evacuation orders to sign a waiver and list their next of kin, according to CNN affiliate WBTW.
• Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for the entire state. So far, though, there’s been no official call to evacuate.
• Officials are concerned that eastern North Carolina areas that were recently flooded will see more rain from Matthew.
— CNN’s Derek Van Dam, Eliott McLaughlin, Dave Hennen, Sheena Jones, Max Blau, Holly Yan, Stephanie Elam, Catherine E. Shoichet, Rolando Zenteno, Keith Allen, Shawn Nottingham, Alexander Leininger, Chandrika Narayan, Tony Marco, Deborah Bloom, Devon M. Sayers, Nick Valencia, Sara Sidner, Jason Morris and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.