26 October 2016

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Hurricane Matthew batters Florida as Haiti death toll rises – Reuters

Matthew, the first major hurricane threatening a direct hit on the United States in more than 10 years, lashed Florida on Friday with heavy rains and winds after killing at least 339 people in Haiti on its destructive march north through the Caribbean, according to Reuters.


Although the hurricane was downgraded to a Category 3 storm as it approached the U.S. mainland, winds gusts of up to 70 miles per hour (113 kph) and heavy downpours were still reported across coastal communities in Florida, the National Hurricane Center said in an advisory, Reuters reported.

"We are just bracing and the winds are picking up," Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry told CNN early on Friday. "A great number of our residents have taken heed to our warnings and we are certainly concerned about those that have not."

More than 140,000 Florida households were without power, according to Governor Rick Scott. In West Palm Beach, once lit street lights and houses went dark and Interstate 95 was empty as the storm rolled through the community of 100,000 people.

Hurricane Matthew was carrying extremely dangerous winds of 120 mph (195 kph) after pounding the northwestern part of the Bahamas en route to Florida's Atlantic coast earlier, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Matthew's winds had dropped on Thursday night and into Friday morning, downgrading it to a Category 3 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, where it could either plow inland or tear along the Atlantic coast through Friday night, the Miami-based center said.

Few storms with winds as powerful as Matthew's have struck Florida, and the NHC warned of "potentially disastrous impacts." The U.S. National Weather Service said the storm could be the most powerful to strike northeast Florida in 118 years.

Hurricane conditions were expected in parts of Florida on Friday and a dangerous storm surge was expected to reach up to 11 feet (3.35 meters) along the Florida coast, Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the Miami-based NHC, said on CNN.

"What we know is that most of the lives lost in hurricanes is due to storm surge," he said.

Some 339 people were killed in Haiti, local officials said, and thousands were displaced after the storm flattened homes, uprooted trees and inundated neighborhoods earlier in the week. Four people were killed in the Dominican Republic, which neighbors Haiti.

Damage and potential casualties in the Bahamas were still unclear as the storm passed near the capital, Nassau, on Thursday and then out over the western end of Grand Bahama Island.

It was too soon to predict where Matthew might do the most damage in the United States, but the NHC's hurricane warning extended up the Atlantic coast from southern Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina. More than 12 million people in the United States were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.

The last major hurricane, classified as a storm bearing sustained winds of more than 110 mph (177 kph), to make landfall on U.S. shores was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.

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