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Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate: Millions in US told to flee Hurricane Matthew

Some three million people on the US southeast coast faced an urgent evacuation order Thursday as monstrous Hurricane Matthew -- now blamed for more than 100 deaths in Haiti alone -- bore down for a direct hit on Florida.

world Updated: Oct 07, 2016 01:36 IST
AFP
Hurricane Matthew
A gas station's pumps are wrapped and closed as many stations in south Florida are out of gas in Miami, Florida on October 6, 2016. Some three million people on the US southeast coast faced an urgent evacuation order Thursday as monstrous Hurricane Matthew -- bore down for a direct hit on Florida. (AFP)

Some three million people on the US southeast coast faced an urgent evacuation order Thursday as monstrous Hurricane Matthew -- now blamed for more than 100 deaths in Haiti alone -- bore down for a direct hit on Florida.

Up and down the coast, highways clogged as people fled inland to escape the storm, which blasted its way through the Caribbean starting Tuesday.

Poor and vulnerable Haiti remained essentially cut in half. Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph said at least 108 Haitians have died, with 50 killed in a single town in the south where the coastline was described as wrecked.

US President Barack Obama on Thursday declared a federal state of emergency in Florida as Hurricane Matthew’s powerful winds began to be felt along the state’s southeast coast.

He ordered federal aid to supplement state and local efforts to deal with the devastating storm, authorizing the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate disaster relief efforts.

In its latest target, the storm slammed the Bahamas, blowing off roofs, downing trees and knocking out power. Weather forecasters working out of Nassau airport had to flee for their lives.

A hotel employee in Nassau described the whole glass entrance of the building being blown in by fierce 100 mph (160 km) winds.

“You could see the wind was pushing it and pushing it, and it was shaking,” said the woman, who asked not to be named because she did not speak for the hotel. “I screamed out as it shattered in the lobby.”

Read: Hurricane Matthew leaves at least 108 dead in Haiti, says interior minister

Matthew is predicted to be very near or over the east central coast of Florida Thursday night or early Friday.

As US gas stations ran dry, frantic shoppers flocked to stores for essentials.

They snapped up batteries, transistor radios, bread, canned goods, bottled water, ice, pet food, toilet paper and other stuff to gird for what Florida Governor Rick Scott warned would be a devastating, killer storm, with winds howling at up to 150 miles per hour (240 kph).

“Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate,” Scott told a news conference. “Time is running out.”

Matthew has regained strength as it approaches Florida and was upgraded a notch Thursday to Category Four by the National Hurricane Center on its 1-5 scale.

Around 1.5 million coastal dwellers are under an evacuation order in Florida alone. More than a million others in South Carolina and other coastal states were also told to escape the path of the storm, which first made landfall in Haiti Tuesday.

Mandatory evacuations were also ordered in six coastal counties in Georgia that are home to some 520,000 people.

Read: Hurricane Matthew hits Bahamas as US prepares for storm

Miami International Airport cancelled 90 percent of its incoming and outgoing flights on Thursday.

The National Hurricane Center called Matthew the strongest in the region in decades.

It said waves whipped up by the hurricane could be as high as 18 feet (5.5 meters) -- nearly as tall as a two-story building. Debris tossed into the air by the storm will be capable of blasting through buildings and cars, the NHC said in a bulletin.

Sixty elementary and other schools in Florida have been turned into shelters, and so far some 3,000 evacuees are in them, Scott’s office said. South Carolina has also opened 38 shelters.

Haiti had not been hit head on by a Category Four storm in 52 years. The country’s presidential election, scheduled for Sunday, has been postponed.

The United Nations office for coordinating humanitarian affairs said half of Haiti’s population of 11 million was expected to be affected.

At least 350,000 people in Haiti, where thousands have lived in tents since the massive earthquake in 2010, need immediate assistance, the UN said.

In Cuba, where some 1.3 million people were evacuated, there were no reported fatalities but four cities in the east were cut off because roads were blocked by large chunks of rock hurled by the storm.