Hurricane Matthew is expected make landfall near Charleston, S.C., on Saturday, according to The National Hurricane Center’s most recent update at 11 a.m. this morning, which warned that a devastating storm surge along the coastline could be felt miles inland.
The projection was more pessimistic than the center’s prior forecast at 5 a.m., as the western eye wall of the storm was brushing the northeastern coast of Florida, about 10 miles from shore, and conditions in Georgia and South Carolina were expected to deteriorate by early afternoon.
“Although weakening is forecast during the next 48 hours, Matthew is expected to remain a hurricane until it begins to move away from the United States on Sunday,” the National Hurricane Center reported in its most recent update.
The storm continues to skirt the Florida coastline as it heads north-northwest at 13 mph, although it weakened to a Category 3 storm this morning, with the eye having yet to make landfall. Airline cancellations soared to about 4,500, with 2,300 canceled for today and Saturday.
Immediately after the NHC update, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley appeared at a press conference with the South Carolina Emergency Management Agency.
“We are looking at major storm surges. We are looking at major winds,” Haley said, adding that an already drenched ground will lead to massive flooding and downed trees if the state gets the 15 inches of rain that is predicted.
“This is the last time you will hear my voice when I’m asking you to evacuate,” Haley said.
This morning the National Hurricane Center warned residents along the Florida, Georgia and Carolina coastlines that the worst of the storm’s effects were yet to come as maximum sustained wind speeds were 120 mph, with higher gusts.
“Storm surge flooding has accounted for nearly half of the deaths associated with landfalling tropical cyclones over the past 50 years,” the NHC warned.
The storm surge was still projected to be as high as nine feet in some areas. Televised NBC reports from Titusville, Fla., showed a few boats that had broken free from their moorings. One was sunk and another was bumping against pilings.
President Obama addressed reporters about 10:40 a.m., reiterating to residents to remain vigilant and referencing Hurricane Sandy, which many thought was going to spare the East Coast, but caused widespread devastation with massive storm surges in the Northeast. (At this time, Hurricane Matthew is expected to move offshore after it travels up the coast through the Carolinas.)
“First, what we’re seeing now is that Matthew, having moved above South Florida and some of the population centers, [is] working its way north, and the big concern people are having right now is the effects it could have on Jacksonville on through Georgia,” Obama said.
“While we’ve seen some significant damage in portions of South Florida, I think the concern at this point is not just strong winds, but storm surge,” he said. “Many of you will remember Hurricane Sandy, where people said, ‘This doesn’t look at bad as we thought, and all of a sudden you get massive storm surge and a lot of people were severely affected. I just want to emphasize to everyone that this is still a really dangerous hurricane.”
Hurricane warnings have been extended to Surf City, N.C., but have now been dropped south of Cocoa Beach, Fla. The warnings include Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla.; Savannah, Ga.; and Charleston, S.C., during the next 36 hours. Jacksonville had not been under a hurricane warning in 17 years, according to The Weather Channel.
“People continue to need to follow the instructions of local officials over the next 24, 48, 72 hours,” Obama said during this morning’s press conference. “Those in Georgia should continue paying attention. The focus has been on Florida, but the storm is moving north. If officials tell you to evacuate, you need to get to higher ground because storm surge can move very quickly.”
This Fox News video shows some of the wind and rain earlier this morning:
The storm killed one Floridian and nearly 300 people in the Caribbean as it crawled across Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas. Most of the lives lost were in Haiti, and aid workers feared that several more people will lose their lives because of starvation.
The slow-moving storm was battering Daytona Beach this morning, and officials warned Florida and Georgia residents not to let their guard down, particularly as high tide approached about 12:45 p.m. today.
The hurricane changed course late last night, largely sparing the lower part of the peninsula. There were 710,000 without power in Florida and Georgia at the time of publication, but that number was climbing rapidly.