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Hurricane Matthew stalks Florida coast; 517,000 without power

A 50-year-old Florida woman died overnight after going into cardiac arrest, an official with the St. Lucie Emergency Operations Center told CNN Friday. Authorities are considering this a storm-related death because the St. Lucie Fire District had to stop responding to emergency calls due to high winds from Hurricane Matthew.

Florida Power & Light is reporting roughly 517,000 customers without power across 35 counties as Hurricane Matthew skirts the state’s eastern seaboard.

The counties with the highest number of outages are:

• Brevard County (includes Melbourne, Port Canaveral and Cocoa Beach): 174,060

• Volusia County (includes Daytona Beach): 121,970

• Palm Beach County (includes Boca Raton and West Palm Beach): 44,850

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday morning that the state is only halfway through the storm and more outages are inevitable. Scott urged residents to stay away from downed power lines until utility crews can render them safe.

Hurricane Matthew whipped coastal east-central Florida with fierce winds as its powerful center teetered parallel to land Friday morning, leaving hundreds of thousands without power. Officials warned the state’s worst damage could come further north.

The biggest questions remained as noon approached: Will the entire center cross over land? If so, where?

The outer eyewall of Matthew — a Category 3 storm with winds of 120 mph at the center — was brushing the coast north of Daytona Beach as the storm moved north-northwest at 11 a.m. ET.

Portions of the coast already have recorded 100 mph winds near Cape Canaveral, and storm surges of 10 feet still are possible for Jacksonville later Friday, Gov. Rick Scott said.

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 11 a.m. ET, Matthew’s center was about 95 miles southeast of Jacksonville, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 60 miles from that center.

• Based on the latest projections, Matthew could make landfall in Florida as a Category 3 storm, or it could skirt the coast and head north before possibly heading back toward land.

• 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.

• More than 600,000 customers statewide were without power Friday morning.

• Forecasters predict a storm surge in parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina that 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 was picking up 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.

• 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.

‘Massive destruction’ possible

Scott said officials are particularly concerned about low-lying areas in Jacksonville, where there is potential for significant flooding.

He said all major roads and interstate highways are open, and no major road or traffic issues have been reported. In some of the counties that the storm has passed, it appeared that evacuations urged by local officials worked, he said.

Still, the governor said, the state was not out of the woods.

“While the storm is still on, don’t go outside,” Scott said.

More than 22,000 people were in shelters, he said.

Major southern Florida population centers like Miami and West Palm Beach appeared to have avoided the worst of the storm. West Palm Beach officials said that although they had yet to make a full assessment, there were no major reports of injuries or significant damage early Friday. Winds knocked down power lines in Miami-Dade County, leaving less than 33,000 customers without power, Florida Power & Light said.

A direct hit by Matthew, Scott said earlier in the week, could lead to “massive destruction” on a level unseen since Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations in the state stretch from Miami to the Florida-Georgia border.

At least two counties were under curfew until 7 a.m. Saturday, officials announced. Orange and Volusia Counties on Thursday night instituted mandatory curfews. Those included the cities of Orlando and Daytona Beach.

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.

Palm Beach residents cleared grocery store shelves ahead of the storm. Despite all the warnings, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said not everyone is listening, even with mandatory evacuation orders in place.

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

• Cars packed highways as South Carolina residents fled coastal areas after officials gave mandatory evacuation orders for several counties. But as thousands fled inland, some people said they were staying put.

• Close to half a million people were expected to have evacuated by Thursday, said Kim Stenson, director of South Carolina Emergency Management.

• The South Carolina Department of Transportation changed the directions of eastbound traffic lanes on highways to accommodate the exodus of people leaving coastal cities like Charleston.

North Carolina

• 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.