Obama Declares State of Emergency in Florida

     (CN) – President Barack Obama declared a federal state of emergency in Florida, as three states in the southeastern U.S. brace for the potentially catastrophic arrival of Hurricane Matthew.
     The president’s action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts with state, local and tribal entities to respond to the predicted widespread damage the Category 4 storm will cause when it arrives on Florida’s east coast Thursday afternoon.
     Later, the president spoke separately to each of the governors whose states are in the path of the storm, and assured them he will provide the “necessary federal resources to help the states respond.”
     The president also reiterated his call that residents of the impacted areas follow the guidance of emergency response officials and that they should be taking this storm seriously.
     The Florida Division of Emergency Management said 48 shelters are already providing refuge for 3,015 people in Florida. Another 13 special needs shelters are already housing 31 people.
           Fort Lauderdale airport shut down all operations Thursday morning, and Orlando International Airport has announced it will end operations at 8 p.m.
     So far today, more than 1,500 commercial flights have been canceled in the U.S. due to the approach of the vicious storm, which has already killed more than 125 people in Haiti and the Caribbean.
     Most of the cancellations were flights scheduled to arrive or depart from Fort Lauderdale and Miami.
     American Airlines, which operates a hub in Miami, JetBlue and Southwest Airlines were reportedly the hardest hit by the suspension of operations.
     Delta Air Lines is also said to be canceling flights, and those cancellations are expected to extend to South Carolina and coastal Georgia on Friday and Saturday as Matthew heads up the coast.
     Also shutting down until the hurricane passes are Walt Disney World, Sea World and Universal Studios.
     Walt Disney World has closed its theme parks only three times since it opened in 1971.
     In a statement on its website Thursday, it said all of its theme parts, Disney Springs and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex will close at 5 p.m. The parks will remain closed on Friday.
     At the Kennedy Space Center in central Florida, NASA moved a new Orion capsule currently in development to a secure building designed to withstand sustained wind of 114 mph and gusts of 125 mph. The capsule will be used to launch astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit.
     The space center, a popular tourist destination, is closed Thursday and Friday.A team of 116 employees will remain at the facility to deal with any emergencies that arise during the storm. The Cape Canaveral Air Force Station has also been closed to nonessential personnel.
     Florida Power and Light is estimating that 2.5 million will be without power in Florida before Matthew is done with the state.
     In Orange County, home to Orlando, Mayor Teresa Jacobs urged residents to be off the roads by 6 p.m. Thursday and be prepared to shelter in place throughout the weekend while Matthew passes through and officials clear roads.
          In neighboring Seminole County a mandatory 26-hour curfew was put in place to begin at 5 a.m. Friday and last through 7 a.m. Saturday. Sheriff Don Eslinger said he wants residents off the streets and his deputies will be patrolling for looters and price gouging following the storm.
     In Lake County, generators, bread and water disappeared from the shelves as soon as they were stocked and the community took to social media to update each other as local stores received new shipments. Grand Island resident Tara Ransom said, “I stocked up on canned goods, batteries, bread and water and we’re keeping our devices charged.”
     Ransom and her husband, Patrick plan to ride out the storm in their home, “We are far enough inland, I don’t think we really have to worry. Our house is sturdy.” Grand Island is about 55 miles from the coast.
     Lake County officials issued an evacuation order for homes along the St. Johns River in Astor, a tiny town on the north side of the county. The river will flood at 2.8 feet and is expected to crest at 3.9 feet Friday afternoon.
     “Residents in Astor have experienced flooding in the past, however this is a major hurricane with the potential to cause deadly prolonged flooding and should be taken seriously,” said Lake County Commission Chairman Sean Parks. “The safety of our citizens is our top priority and we urge residents near the river to evacuate to a safe location during this storm.”
     In the Jacksonville area, there are long lines at gas stations as residents heed Gov. Scott’s call for them to evacuate, and crowds at supermarkets stocking up on non-perishable goods, bottled water, batteries, and larger items like generators, grills and propane.
     In Duval and surrounding counties, mandatory evacuations have been called for all properties near any body of water due to expected storm surges.
     About 30 percent of residents have evacuated so far from the beaches area, according to Jacksonville’s WJXT Channel 4. A 10 p.m. curfew will be in place in the beaches communities starting Thursday night, and alcohol sales will be suspended in the area starting at 6 p.m.
     As the day progressed on Thursday, several courts announced Matthew-related closures.
           The courts in Polk, Hardee and Highlands County closed at 2 p.m. Thursday and will remain closed Friday.
     Courts in Alachua, DeSoto and Manatee counties will also be closed Friday.
     In Palm Beach and Martin County in Florida, many inland residents apparently have decided to stay put, and even some who live on the state’s vulnerable barrier islands have decided to defy mandatory evacuation orders.
     In West Palm Beach, it was bedlam at a local Publix supermarket right before its early closing at 2 p.m. The shelves were bare of water and bread and other essential items, but one shopper found consolation in the fact the store still had Krispy Kreme donuts. “So that’s a plus,” he said.
     Further north, the National Weather Service on Thursday afternoon posted a flash-flood watch for the entire South Carolina coast and warned that the combination of storm surge and heavy rain could cause historic flooding in downtown Charleston.
     The flash flood warning extends through Saturday night, and forecasters said residents should be prepared for the possibility of widespread flooding and property damage on the Charleston peninsula.
     Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said Thursday afternoon that anyone who hasn’t already left the city should do so as soon as possible.
     “It really goes against my grain and against my nature to be inhospitable, but we’re asking everyone to please leave town,” Tecklenburg said. “It’s that time.”
     Charleston Police Chief Greg Mullen said the evacuation of the city has gone well, but he acknowledged that some have chosen to remain.
     To those, she said they need to realize that there will be “very limited” response capabilities from loaw enforcement and other emergency service personnel once the storm arrives.
           “If you call 911, you will not get the normal response that you get on a daily basis,” Mullen said.
     He also reminded city residents that once winds rise to 45 miles per hour or higher, first responders are pulled off the street for their own safety.
     “Please understand … this is a serious storm. a serious threat,” Mullen said.
     Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Thursday ordered everyone living in one of the state’s six coastal counties to evacuate after forecasters said Hurricane Matthew has re-intensified into a Category 4 storm.
     The monster hurricane has killed at least 112 as it has moved through the Caribbean, with 108 of those confirmed fatalities in Haiti.
     The killer storm briefly weakened after blasting Haiti, but on Thursday morning the National Hurricane Center said Matthew’s maximum sustained winds had strengthened to 140 mph and were expected to maintain their strength as the storm approaches the Florida coast.
     Here in the U.S., the governors of three states have ordered mandatory evacuations as Matthew now appears almost certain to come ashore in Palm Beach County, Florida and slash up the coast to at least South Carolina before heading out to sea.
     But not all has gone smoothly as people have been forced from their homes along the coast. In Moncks Corner, South Carolina, sheriff’s deputies shot and killed a man during an altercation over a Hurricane Matthew evacuation route.
     Berkeley County Chief Deputy Coroner George Oliver said 35-year-old Lucas Felkel of Moncks Corner died shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday. He was shot after an argument with officers and after he knocked down traffic cones and tried to speed away.
           South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley was the first of three southeast governors to a mandatory order for residents to leave coastal counties, but the early stages of the evacuation left many confused as law enforcement and National Guard troops completely shut down entrances to both the east and westbound lanes on Interstate-26, the main artery out of Charleston, hours before the highway was to be realigned so all traffic could move in a westerly direction on it.
     This forced residents onto a long-designated hurricane evacuation route that often was little more than a two-lane road.
     The route through rural South Carolina into the state’s midlands and upstate was often at a complete standstill Wednesday, and what ordinarily would be a three-and-a-half hour drive to Greenville was at least three times as long for many, fraying nerves and patience.
     By mid-afternoon Wednesday, a number of service stations in South Carolina had run out of gas, hotel rooms were completely booked from state’s the Midlands to the state’s border with Northern Georgia.
     In many cases weary travelers who hadn’t called ahead were turned away, and advised to seek shelter in North Carolina.
     Gov. Haley expanded her evacuation order Thursday, telling residents in Horry and Georgetown counties that it was time for them too to leave.
     On Thursday morning, as forecasts on Matthew grew more grim, Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned the 1.5 million residents living in the state’s evacuation zones to “get out” as quickly as they can.
     
     Photo caption 1:
     This GOES East satellite image provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows Hurricane Matthew moving northwest of Cuba towards the Atlantic coast of southern Florida, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (NOAA via AP)
     
     Photo caption 2:
     People stand on the pier as waves crash below as Hurricane Matthew approaches on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016 in St. Augustine, Fla. (Matt Stamey/The Gainesville Sun via AP)

     Photo caption 3:
     Alec Manning drills holes into plywood to cover the windows of a business during storm preparations for Hurricane Matthew, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016, in Darien, Ga. The hurricane picked up steam as it closed in, growing from a Category 3 to a Category 4 storm by late morning. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

     Photo caption 4:
     People settle in at the shelter at Boynton Beach Community High School as Hurricane Matthew makes its way toward South Florida, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (Jim Rassol/Sun Sentinel via AP)

     Photo caption 5:
     Gas pumps are rapped with plastic for protection at a Speedway gas station in Sunrise, Fla. People doing last minute prep before Hurricane Matthew approaches Broward County on Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016. (Carline Jean/The Sun Sentinel via AP)

     Photo caption 6:
     Power crews with Pike Electric from all over the United States including Texas, Georgia and North Caroline prepare their trucks in Pembroke Pines, Fla., for response as needed to power outages due to Hurricane Matthew Thursday, Oct. 6, 2016.(Taimy Alvarez/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

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