By Jason Hanna, Madison Park and Steve Almasy
FLORIDA — Hurricane Matthew has left hundreds of thousands of people without power in Florida as the Category 3 storm skirts the state’s east coast, but its most damaging blow to the southeastern US could be still to come.
The storm — centered just off the northeast Florida coast Friday afternoon — threatened to push dangerous storm surges into Jacksonville with or without landfall and eventually communities along coastal Georgia and South Carolina.
Although projections showed the storm still could go out to sea without landfall, its center very well could 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.
Matthew — with winds of 120 mph at the center — hit the east-central coastline with gusts of up to 83 mph early Friday afternoon after running parallel to the coast much of the day, leaving debris and some street flooding behind.
High water 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 1 p.m. ET, Matthew’s center was over the Atlantic, about 70 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.
• Jacksonville could see storm surges of up to 9 feet Friday afternoon, forecasters said. Anything over 3 feet in the city is life-threatening, Mayor Lenny Curry said.
• “Very dangerous conditions, and it’s going to get worse into the afternoon,” Curry said.
• Nearly 827,000 customers statewide were without power Friday.
• Forecasters predict storm surges in coastal Georgia and South Carolina also 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 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.
Though the storm had yet to make landfall, it left swaths of coastal Florida with downed trees and power lines.
Matthew kicked up debris and street flooding 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.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said officials are particularly concerned about low-lying areas in and around Jacksonville, where there is potential for significant flooding.
He said all major roads and interstate highways were open as of late morning, and no major road or traffic issues were reported. In some of the counties that the storm has passed, it appeared that evacuations urged by local officials worked, he said.
“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.
Voluntary and mandatory evacuations in the state stretch from Miami to the Florida-Georgia border.
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. 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.
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