MIAMI, Oct. 7 (UPI) — Hurricane Matthew’s eye brushed against portions of north Florida’s coast Friday with 110 mph winds and heavy rains.
The National Weather Service issued serious warnings to Florida, Georgia and South Carolina residents Friday morning, now putting the storm on par with Katrina as far as potential damage, primarily from rain and storm surge.
The NWS warned people along the Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coasts of “life-threatening inundation” from rain, wind and storm surge in the next 48 hours.
The storm was 60 miles southeast of Jacksonville, Fla., Friday afternoon moving north-northwest at 12 mph, the National Hurricane Center reported in its 2 p.m. update.
Guests told Action News Jax they were trapped in a historic St. Augustine, Fla., waterfront hotel Friday. Water lapped against the hotel’s entrance as a reporter yelled questions to guests, who said there were adults and about 20 children inside.
Matthew hit the northwestern Bahamas Thursday afternoon with devastating 140 mph winds, heavy rain and storm surge of up to 15 feet in some places. More than 250 have been reported killed in Haiti, with the cleanup just beginning to uncover the devastation there.
Matthew caused problems for Florida as far south as Miami starting mid-day Thursday.
— CARLOS TRIVINO (@CARLOSTRIVINO1) October 6, 2016
Problems moved north, where storm surge put vacationers staying in beachfront hotels in danger, with water lapping against oceanside windows Friday in Ormond Beach, Fla.
A video posted by Shaw (@ssimpsont) on Oct 7, 2016 at 8:45am PDT
It wasn’t just the weather that was causing problems in Florida. Though it is illegal, businesses selling everything from bottled water to airline tickets raised prices. Residents posted images on social media showing generic bottled water selling for almost $2 per bottle, $5.99 per gallon gas and a $4,000 round trip airfare from Jacksonville, Fla., to Cleveland. State officials promised to investigate.
Forecasters expect Matthew to continue hugging the Southeast coast, moving past Georgia and South Carolina and slowly weakening.
“That’s going to be really key because the most intense part of the hurricane is very close to the center,” Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center. “And as that pulls into the coast, the conditions are going to deteriorate.”
Rappaport had some good news, saying “we’ve probably already reached the storm’s peak intensity as far as wind speeds go.”
The NHC also said life-threatening floods could occur along the Southeast U.S. 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.
Storm surge is predicted to be 6-9 feet above tide from Flagler Beach, Fla., to Edisto Beach, S.C., with amounts elsewhere from 2-6 feet above tide. Those levels will easily inundate many coastal areas in Matthew’s path.
Florida, Georgia and South Carolina coastal areas will see total rain of 8-12 inches, with isolated areas getting up to 15 inches.
A hurricane warning is currently in effect from Cocoa Beach, Fla. to Surf City, N.C. A hurricane watch is in effect north of Surf City to Cape Lookout in North Carolina. A tropical storm warning is in effect from Sebastian Inlet in Florida to Cocoa Beach, and North Carolina’s Pamlico and Albemarle sounds.
Matthew will begin making a loop Saturday afternoon that is expected to bring the storm right back toward the Bahamas and South Florida next week as a tropical storm or a depression.
Currently, Matthew’s hurricane-force winds extend out 60 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds extend out 185 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 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 was downgraded to a tropical storm Friday with 70 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, possibly hitting Bermuda Wednesday morning.
This is a developing story. Check back throughout the day for the latest updates.