MIAMI, Oct. 6 (UPI) — Category 3 Hurricane Matthew gained strength as it neared the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday while a hurricane warning has been extended as far north as Georgia in the U.S. east coast.
Matthew is expected to continue to strengthen on Thursday, becoming a Category 4 hurricane by the time it nears the east coast of Florida on Thursday night, the National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. update.
Hurricane warnings are in effect for the Bahamas, Florida’s Lake Okeechobee and along the U.S. coast from Golden Beach, Fla., up to Altamaha Sound, Ga. A hurricane watch is in effect from Altamaha Sound north to South Carolina’s South Santee River.
Matthew, which is less than 60 miles south-southeast from Nassau, has maximum sustained winds of 125 mph and is moving northwest at a speed of 12 mph, the NHC said. The hurricane is expected to turn north-northwest later on Thursday.
“The eye of Matthew should pass near Andros Island and New Providence in the northwestern Bahamas early this morning, then pass near Grand Bahama Island late today, and move very close to the east coast of the Florida peninsula tonight through Friday night,” the NHC said in its Thursday update, adding that life-threatening floods could occur from Deerfield Beach, Fla., up to Altamaha Sound within the next 36 hours.
“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.
The Bahamas is expected to see total rainfall of 8-12 inches, with isolated accumulation of 15 inches, the NHC said. The U.S. east coast from Florida up to Georgia and South Carolina should see rainfall of 4-8 inches, with isolated accumulations of 12 inches.
The NHC warns people to protect themselves from life-threatening wind conditions, as well as from dangerous storm surges and surf swells. Hurricane-force winds extend out 40 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend out 160 miles.
Matthew could make make a tight, troubling U-turn east into the Atlantic beginning Friday afternoon ending up southbound on Monday.
Residents north of Miami are emptying many store shelves and boarding up in preparation for what is expected to be a Category 4 hurricane hugging the coast with the eye from about 50 miles or less off West Palm Beach to virtually overhead at Cape Canaveral between Thursday night and Friday afternoon.
Hurricane conditions are expected to first reach hurricane warning areas in Florida by late Thursday and will spread north into Thursday night and Friday. Tropical storm conditions are first expected in Florida by early Thursday.
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. The extent of damage in Haiti isn’t yet clear.
Matthew made landfall in extreme eastern Cuba as a Category 3 storm late Tuesday, bringing life-threatening winds, storm surge and heavy rains.
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, another storm formed Tuesday — Tropical Storm Nicole — currently with 70 mph maximum sustained winds in the open Atlantic between Puerto Rico and Bermuda. Nicole is forecast to meander slowly north for the next several days and is currently no threat to land.
This is a developing story. Check back throughout the day for the latest updates.