Debris Field Grows as |Matthew Batters Florida

     (CN) – Torn-off roofs, balcony railings, garage doors, and uprooted trees and utility poles now litter Florida coastal communities as Hurricane Matthew continues to move up the coast and takes aim at Georgia and South Carolina.
     And President Barack Obama warned Friday that Matthew is “still a really dangerous hurricane.”
     Meeting in the Oval Office on Friday with FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, the president said he was concerned about storm surge and that as the hurricane moves north, areas such as Jacksonville, Florida, and Georgia might be less prepared.
     Obama told those living in affected areas that, “If they tell you to evacuate, you need to get out of there and move to higher ground.”
           He went on to say “because storm surge can move very quickly … people can think that they’re out of the woods and then suddenly get hit, and not be in a position in which they and their families are safe.”
     Two people have died in Florida as a result of Matthew and in both cases it was because emergency personnel simply couldn’t get to the victims at the height of the storm.
     At 1:20 a.m. Friday a 58-year-old woman in St. Lucie County called for help after suffering a heart attack. She died before it was safe for emergency crews to be dispatched to her.
     Just over two hours later, at 3:26 a.m., emergency responders in St. Lucie County receive a 911 call that an 82-year-old man had fallen unconscious and was not breathing. By the time emergency vehicle were able to reach his home, he had been driven in a personal car to the hospital, where he died.
     Officials said a couple in their 90s from St. Lucie County have been hospitalized in critical condition after running a generator inside their garage.
     They were found by their neighbors this morning inside their home, unconscious and unresponsive.
     In St. Augustine, Florida, flood waters are pouring down streets and about 20 people, including children, are trapped in a bed and breakfast.
     So far, Florida Power and Light reports that 874,790 have experienced power outages as a result of the massive storm, and that it has restored power to 227,650.
     Jacksonville is the next major city in the cross-hairs of the Category 3 storm, but wind and rain from Matthew is already reaching the South Carolina coast.
     As a result, Joint Base Charleston has been closed until further notice as the hurricane approaches.
     The base consists of Charleston Air Force Base, the Charleston Naval Weapons station and two other facilities in or near North Charleston.
     Meanwhile, as high winds and torrential rain advance into northern Florida, there have been moments of levity amid the stress millions are feeling.
           The St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park changed its Facebook profile picture to a photograph of a marabou stork that found refuge from the storm in a zoon bathroom.
     The zoo’s staff joked in their caption “no species discrimination n this bathroom!”
     The zoo also posted photos of baby alligators swimming indoors in plastic tubs and other birds walking around freely inside a building.
     The park said it has moved all of its birds and mammals inside.
     In Georgia, transportation officials closed a bridge that is one of the primary routes between the mainland and the barrier islands off Brunswick.
     The Georgia Department of Transportation closed the Sidney Lanier Bridge the state’s tallest cable-stayed suspension bridge at 10 a.m. Friday and that due to the expected gale force winds that will soon be moving through the area, the bridge will have to be inspected before it is reopened.
     The bridge is the main route to the Georgia’s Golden Isles — including Jekyll Island, Sea Island, St. Simons Island and Little St. Simons Island — from Interstate-95.
     Georgia DOT will also close the Talmadge Memorial Bridge on U.S.-17 in Savannah-Chatham County at noon.
     Like the Sidney Lanier Bridge, the Talmadge bridge will have to be inspected for wind damaged before it reopens.
     In South Florida, which the National Hurricane Center included in the possible paths for Matthew, a sense of relief began to replace fear Friday morning.
     For the most part, other than some wind damage and power outages, the area came through the crisis unscathed.
     A tropical storm warning for Palm Beach County was lifted early Friday, the last remaining warning that had been in place after Matthew passed the area.
     By and large South Florida avoided the brunt of the storm as the heaviest winds stayed offshore. Damaged power lines and downed trees were spotted in isolated areas, and heavy rain, which persisted into early Friday morning, caused flooding in low-lying areas.
           According to the National Weather Service, one of the highest winds Thursday on the Treasure Coast was a 71-mph gust recorded just before midnight.
     Miami showed signs of relief early Friday as the City is spared from the wrath of Hurricane Matthew.
     A tropical storm warning stayed in effect for Miami Dade till late Thursday.
     A few showers and wind gusts of 25-35 miles per hour were felt in Miami throughout the day on Thursday. Waves of up to three feet called the attention of many surfers in Miami Beach.
     According to local forecasters Miami’s weather will improve gradually, but some strong breezes and showers are still forecasted for Friday.
     Florida Power and Light reported there were about 7,260 households in Miami- Dade without power and 8,500 in Broward County, but law enforcement and government officials said no major damage had occurred as a result of the storm.
     The utility said customers in Broward and Miami-Dade Counties will likely have service restored today. In Palm Beach County, the 40,860 estimated customers experiencing outages can expect to have power restored between today and tomorrow, FPL said.
     “We’re seeing a lot of tree damage,” an FPL spokesman said. “Mother nature has not done any real house-cleaning in the last decade,” the spokesman said, referencing a ten-year-long lull during which Florida has avoided a direct hit from a major hurricane (Category 3 or greater).
     On Thursday night many tourists and residents in Miami Beach were already celebrating that Hurricane Matthew was no longer a threat to South Florida. Many local restaurants and bars reopened their doors on Thursday night.
     For safety reasons local authorities announced that Miami-Dade and Broward counties public schools will remain closed till Monday. Government offices and courthouses will stay close till Tuesday due to the Columbus Day holiday on Monday.
     One sure sign life in the southern Florida is beginning to return to normal is that the airports are reopening, with flights expected to resume by midday Friday.
     Some 4,500 flights have been canceled so far due to Matthew, and flights to and from Orlando are not scheduled to resume until Saturday at the earliest.
     Meanwhile cancelations are beginning to occur in Atlanta, Savannah and Charleston as a result of the storm.
     The current forecast for coastal Georgia and South Carolina calls for between 8 and 14 inches of rain in places along the coast with as much as 4 inches in locations father inland.
     Dangerous waves and rip currents are expected along the coast during the storm with storm surge of 4 to 8 feet.
      Photo caption 1:
     Hurricane Matthew debris lines the streets outside the West Palm Beach courthouse. Photo by Izzy Kapnick.
     Photo caption 2:
     This Oct. 6, 2016, photo provided by the St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park shows a marabou stork in a restroom at the facility in St. Augustine, Fla. The zoo said it moved all of its birds and mammals inside ahead of Hurricane Matthew’s arrival. (Gen Anderson/St. Augustine Alligator Farm and Zoological Park via AP)
     Photo caption 3:
     This Oct. 6, 2016 photo shows shoppers buying last minute provisions at a supermarket in West Palm Beach. Photo by Izzy Kapnick
     Photo caption 4:
     Hurricane Matthew toppled a large tree in downtown West Palm Beach. Photo by Izzy Kapnick with assistance from Melsis Lopez.

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