Cape Canaveral (Florida), (IANS) Hurricane Matthew battered the Florida coastline on Friday morning with heavy rains and gusty winds, leaving more than 300,000 homes and businesses without power. The storm, the most powerful to threaten the Atlantic coast in more than a decade, has left more than 300 dead in Haiti.
Matthew, which has been downgraded to a Category 3 storm, threatened to unleash winds of 120 mph and punishing storm surges in Florida, as the eye of the storm grazed close to the coast.
The hurricane weakened slightly overnight but officials warned that it remained “extremely dangerous.”
Wind gusts as high as 107 mph have been clocked at Cape Canaveral, Florida, prompting a National Weather Service “extreme wind warning”.
The western edge of the storm eyewall was about 170 miles south-southeast of Jacksonville, according to the National Weather Service.
It is expected to continue moving northwest Friday and, by Friday night, turn north. It is moving parallel to the coast. National Weather Service has forecast life-threatening storm surge along the coast and 8 to 12 inches of rain.
The storm battered Haiti, the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said, with a combined death toll at 478, according to mirror.co.uk.
Haiti was hit hardest with key infrastructure badly damaged and hundreds of thousands displaced.
Mourad Wahba, the UN secretary-general’s deputy special representative for Haiti, described Matthew as the “largest humanitarian event” since the 2010 earthquake.
The storm, which has already forced some two million people across the Southeast to evacuate and left a path of destruction in its wake, was described as a “monster” by Florida Governor Rick Scott. “I’m going to pray for everybody’s safety,” Scott said.
Scott said Florida “must prepare for a direct hit,” adding: “This storm can kill you.”
President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and personnel to protect lives and property.
On Thursday, hundreds of thousands of anxious people boarded up their homes and businesses and grabbed a few belongings to flee inland as Matthew roared toward the Southeast seaboard.
Some two million persons have been advised to evacuate across coastal areas of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. North Carolina could also be affected as the storm moves north.
Airports in the four states were shut down. Airlines cancelled more than 3,000 flights Thursday and Friday, many of them in or out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.