The Mesa Verde, a U.S. Navy amphibious transport dock ship, was heading for Haiti for relief efforts. The ship has heavy-lift helicopters, bulldozers, fresh-water delivery vehicles and two surgical operating rooms.
FOUR KILLED IN FLORIDA
Matthew sideswiped Florida’s coast with winds of up to 120 mph (195 kph) but did not make landfall there. The U.S. National Hurricane Centre (NHC) downgraded the storm to a Category 2 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity as its sustained winds dropped to 110 mph. Category 5 is the strongest.
There were at least four storm-related deaths in Florida but no immediate reports of significant damage in cities and towns where Matthew swamped streets, toppled trees and knocked out power to more than 1 million households and businesses. About 300,000 households and businesses were without power in Georgia and South Carolina, according to utility companies.
Two people in Florida were killed by falling trees, according to state officials, and an elderly couple died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator while sheltering from the storm inside a garage.
Hurricane warnings early on Saturday extended up the Atlantic coast from northeast Florida through Georgia and South Carolina and into North Carolina.
Flash flood warnings were also in effect as 15 inches (40 cm) of rain was expected to accumulate in parts of the region along with storm surges and high tides, the National Weather Service said.
Several major roadways were flooded in Charleston, South Carolina, where water topped a wall at The Battery and was inundating White Point Gardens, a large downtown park, local media reported early on Saturday.
At 1:45 a.m. EDT (0545 GMT), Matthew’s eye was about 95 miles (155 km) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, and moving northward at 12 mph (19 kph), the NHC said. Wind gusts of more than 60 mph (100 kph) were reported in South Carolina.
Standing water closed both directions of the Interstate 95 highway in Georgia. Some 8 inches (20 cm) of rain had fallen in the Savannah, Georgia area where Matthew downed trees and caused flooding of streets, local emergency officials reported.
Earlier on Friday in Daytona Beach, Florida the street under the city’s famed “World’s Most Famous Beach” sign was clogged with debris washed up by the ocean. The waves had receded by early afternoon but there was damage throughout the city, including a facade ripped off the front of a seaside hotel.
Though gradually weakening, Matthew was forecast to remain a hurricane until it begins moving away from the U.S. Southeast on Sunday, according to the NHC.
RELUCTANT TO LEAVE
Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he was concerned that relatively light damage so far could give people up the coast a false sense of security.
“People should not be looking at the damages they’re seeing and saying this storm is not that bad,” Fugate told NBC.
“The real danger still is storm surge, particularly in northern Florida and southern Georgia. These are very vulnerable areas. They’ve never seen this kind of damage potential since the late 1800s.”
In St. Augustine just south of Jacksonville, Florida, about half of the 14,000 residents refused to heed evacuation orders despite warnings of an 8-foot (2.4-meter) storm surge that could inundate entire neighborhoods, Mayor Nancy Shaver said in a telephone interview from the area’s emergency operations center.
Television images later showed water swirling through streets in the historic downtown district of St. Augustine, the oldest U.S. city and a major tourist attraction.
“There’s that whole inability to suspend disbelief that I think really affects people in a time like this,” Shaver said.