Nearly two million people along the US East Coast have been urged to leave their homes as Hurricane Matthew approaches, News Agencies report.The storm – the biggest the US has seen in more than a decade – is now powering towards Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas with raging winds as high as 145mph (233kph).
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has urged more than 522,000 residents of six coastal counties to voluntarily evacuate – something that hasn’t occurred in coastal Georgia for 17 years. Some 3,000 people have already checked into shelters across Florida.
Forecasters have upgraded the storm to a Category 4 hurricane as it continues to batter the Bahamas and nears Florida’s Atlantic coast – meaning “catastrophic damage will occur” where it makes landfall. Matthew has already claimed the lives of at least 69 people in the Caribbean, 65 of them in Haiti.
Officials expect that figure to rise as more rural areas are reached. In Haiti, civil aviation authorities say more than 3,200 homes have been destroyed along the southern peninsula, where many families live in shacks. The Haiti government has estimated at least 350,000 people need some kind of assistance after the disaster.
Aid groups are appealing for donations for a lengthy recovery effort to help the country’s worst humanitarian crisis since the earthquake of 2010. International Development Secretary Priti Patel says the UK will be sending a team of humanitarian experts to boost the effort.
“Homes have been destroyed, loved ones have been lost and people’s livelihoods shattered. The British people will be there for those in need,” she said. Hurricane Matthew is forecast to hit much of the Florida coast and any slight deviation could mean landfall or it heading farther out to sea.
Either way it will be close enough to wreak havoc along the lower part of the coast, and many people are moving to safer areas. The last Category 3 storm or higher to hit the US was Wilma in October 2005, which killed five people, caused billions of dollars in damage and left thousands of residents without power for more than a week.
Matthew is now less than 300 miles south east of West Palm Beach and moving north west at 12mph (19kph), according to the National Hurricane Centre. The National Hurricane Centre says it is “very difficult to specify impacts at any one location”, although Florida can expect as much as 10ins of rain in some isolated areas.