Millions in US told to flee monster Matthew

2016-10-06 19:20
Motorists drive past a hurricane warning sign Hallandale Beach, Florida. (Wilfredo Lee, AP)

Motorists drive past a hurricane warning sign Hallandale Beach, Florida. (Wilfredo Lee, AP)

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Miami - About three million people on the US southeast coast faced an urgent evacuation order on Thursday as monstrous Hurricane Matthew - now blamed for more than 100 deaths in Haiti alone - bore down for a direct hit on Florida.

Up and down the coast, highways clogged as people fled inland to escape the storm, which blasted its way through the Caribbean starting on Tuesday.

Poor and vulnerable Haiti remained essentially cut in half. Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph said at least 108 Haitians have died, with 50 killed in a single town in the south where the coastline was described as wrecked.

In its latest target, the storm slammed the Bahamas on Thursday, blowing off roofs, downing trees and knocking out power. Weather forecasters working out of Nassau airport had to flee for their lives.

A hotel employee in Nassau described the whole glass entrance of the building being blown in by fierce 160km/h winds.

"You could see the wind was pushing it and pushing it, and it was shaking," said the woman, who asked not to be named because she did not speak for the hotel. "I screamed out as it shattered in the lobby."

Matthew is predicted to be very near or over the east central coast of Florida on Thursday night or early Friday.

As US fuel stations ran dry, frantic shoppers flocked to stores for essentials.

They snapped up batteries, transistor radios, bread, canned goods, bottled water, ice, pet food, toilet paper and other stuff to gird for what Florida Governor Rick Scott warned would be a devastating, killer storm, with winds howling at up to 240km/h.

Time running out

"Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate," Scott told a news conference. "Time is running out."

Matthew has regained strength as it approaches Florida and was upgraded a notch on Thursday to Category Four by the National Hurricane Center on its 1-5 scale.

Around 1.5 million coastal dwellers are under an evacuation order in Florida alone. More than a million others in South Carolina and other coastal states were also told to escape the path of the storm, which first made landfall in Haiti on Tuesday.

Mandatory evacuations were also ordered in six coastal counties in Georgia that are home to about 520 000 people.

Miami International Airport cancelled 90% of its incoming and outgoing flights on Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center called Matthew the strongest in the region in decades.

It said waves whipped up by the hurricane could be as high as 5.5m - nearly as tall as a two-storey building. Debris tossed into the air by the storm will be capable of blasting through buildings and cars, the NHC said in a bulletin.

Scott said the forecast is for storm surges of 1.5- to 2.7m, not counting the waves on top of that.

"Stop and think about that," he said. "Waves will be crashing on your roof if you're right close to where the storm surge is happening and you're close to where the waves are."

He said power outages, possibly lengthy, are a near certainty.

Sixty elementary and other schools in Florida have been turned into shelters, and so far about 3 000 evacuees are in them, Scott's office said. South Carolina has also opened 38 shelters.

'It's pretty bad'

Amid the massive flight, officials warned a worrying number of people were not heeding the evacuation order.

In South Carolina's coastal Charleston and Beaufort counties, Governor Nikki Haley said 175 000 people had evacuated as of Thursday morning - out of 250 000 who were told to leave.

"That is not enough, we need to have more people evacuating," she told a news conference. "If you are still sitting at home, if you have not evacuated, gas stations are getting ready to close, your pharmacies are getting ready to close, everything is going to leave."

Among the holdouts in northern Florida was Judy Ruscino, 74, who said she and her husband hoped to ride out the storm in their home in Daytona Beach.

"It's a little bit scary. I know it's pretty bad but we have the sand, we bought food, the garage door is storm proof," said Ruscino.

In the city of Fort Lauderdale, outside one shelter a crowd gathered on Wednesday night before it even opened. People carried suitcases and pillows, the Miami Herald reported.

"I am homeless. There is no way I can ride out a Category 3 or 4 outside," said Ken Roberts, 59, an army veteran. "I would not make it."

Read more on:    us  |  hurricane matthew  |  hurricanes

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