MIAMI, Oct. 6 (UPI) — Holding at Category 4 strength late Tuesday afternoon, Hurricane Matthew slowly approached Grand Bahama Island and Florida after making an unexpected jog north, improving the immediate forecast for South Florida.
Matthew continued to hit the Bahamas with devastating 140 mph winds, heavy rain and storm surge of up to 15 feet in some places. The storm was 25 miles south-southeast of Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, and 100 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach, Fla., moving northwest at 13 mph, the National Hurricane Center reported in its 5 p.m. update.
“The eye of Matthew should move near or over Freeport in the Bahamas in the next hour or so, and move close to or over the east coast of the Florida peninsula through Friday night,” the NHC said in its Thursday updates, adding that life-threatening floods could occur along the Southeast coast within the next 36 hours, with the worst conditions near the Atlantic.
“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline,” the NHC said.
A hurricane warning now extends from Golden Beach, Fla., (north of North Miami Beach) up to South Santee River, S.C. Hurricane warnings also were in effect for the Bahamas and Florida’s Lake Okeechobee. A tropical storm warning is now in effect from Santee River, S.C., to Surf City, N.C., as well in the Florida Keys, Florida Bay and up Florida’s Gulf coast.
Matthew is now expected to hug the Southeast coast up to South Carolina before beginning a loop Saturday afternoon that could bring the storm right back toward the Bahamas and South Florida next week.
The Bahamas is expected to see total rainfall of 8-12 inches, with isolated accumulation of 15 inches, the NHC said. Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coastal areas will likely see rainfall of 4-8 inches, with isolated accumulations of 12 inches.
Currently, Matthew’s hurricane-force winds extend out 60 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend out 160 miles.
Matthew is the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007 and the most powerful hurricane to hit Haiti in 52 years. The hurricane made landfall near Les Anglais in southwestern Haiti at 7 a.m. Tuesday with 145 mph winds and torrential rains. Officials in Haiti now report the death toll there to be 136, with thousands displaced and many homes destroyed.
Officials in Palm Beach County ordered mandatory evacuations in mobile home parks, low lying areas and some islands.
Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel asked residents to stay at home and off the roads.
Officials in Florida’s Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Martin counties north of the Miami area announced the closure of all schools there Thursday and Friday to prepare for their potential use as shelters. School buses typically do not run in winds stronger than 40 mph.
Meanwhile, Nicole became a hurricane Late Thursday afternoon with 85 mph maximum sustained winds in the open Atlantic between Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Nicole is forecast to meander south before turning northwest and picking up speed. It is currently no threat to land.
That would put Nicole and Matthew in relative close proximity, though it’s not clear if the two storms would interact.
This is a developing story. Check back throughout the day for the latest updates.