Hurricane Matthew has hit Florida’s Atlantic coast, toppling trees on to homes and knocking out power to more than 800,000 people.
Despite fears over the storm, it yesterday spared the most heavily populated stretch of shoreline and the catastrophic consequences many Americans had feared did not come to pass.
More than 800 people have died in Haiti as a result of the storm, with the United Nations warning it could be many days before the full impact is known.
Authorities in the United States last night warned that the danger was far from over, with hundreds of miles of coastline in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina still under threat of torrential rain and deadly storm surge as the most powerful hurricane to menace the Atlantic Seaboard in over a decade pushed north. They warned, too, that the storm could easily take a turn inland.
“It still has time to do a direct hit,” Governor Rick Scott said. “This is not over. It could be the worst part of this is yet to come.”
Meanwhile, the magnitude of the devastation inflicted by Matthew as it roared through the Caribbean became ever clearer, with officials in Haiti raising the death toll, while also cautioning that there were scores of bodies that had yet to be recorded.
In Florida, Matthew was downgraded to a Category 3 hurricane overnight, and its storm centre, or eye, hung just offshore yesterday morning as it moved up the coastline, sparing communities the full force of its 120 mph winds.
It still managed to knock down trees and power lines, damage buildings and flood streets.
Robert Tyler had feared the storm surge would flood his street two blocks from the Cape Canaveral beach.
Tree branches fell, he could hear transformers exploding overnight, and the windows seemed as if they were about to blow in, despite the plywood over them.
But in the morning, there wasn’t much water, his home didn’t appear to have damage on first inspection, and his vehicles were unharmed.
“Overnight, it was scary as heck,” he said. “That description of a freight train is pretty accurate.”
As the storm closed in over the past few days, an estimated 2twomillion people across the US south-east were warned to clear out.
Forecasters said 15 inches of rain and a storm surge of up to 9 feet were possible in places.
National Hurricane Centre Director Rick Knabb reminded people in the danger zone that storm surge is the biggest threat to life during a hurricane, even when the eye remains offshore. “If you’re hoping it’s is just going to pass far enough offshore that this isn’t a problem anymore – that is a very, very big mistake that you could make that could cost you your life,” he said.
Airlines canceled at least 4,500 flights Wednesday through to today, including many in and out of Orlando, where all three of the resort city’s world-famous theme parks – Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld – closed because of the storm.
Meanwhile, people across southwest Haiti were digging through the wreckage of their homes, salvaging what they could of their meagre possessions after the hurricane killed hundreds of people in the impoverished country.
Workers from the International Organisation of Migration and other groups were going through the area to assess the damage and provide assistance, though their efforts were hampered by damaged roads, rough terrain and other factors.
“Devastation is everywhere,” said Pilus Enor, mayor of Camp Perrin, a town near the port city of Les Cayes on the peninsula’s south shore. “Every house has lost its roof.”
More bodies began to appear as waters receded in some places two days after Matthew’s 145 mph winds smashed concrete walls, flattened palm trees and tore roofs off homes, forcing thousands of Haitians to flee.