Hurricane Matthew’s winds diminished on Saturday as it headed towards the Carolinas after killing almost 900 people in Haiti and causing major flooding and widespread power outages in the southeastern United States.
As winds dropped to less than 135kph, making it a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale of 1 to 5, the storm was about 35 km south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina, according to the US National Hurricane Centre. It was moving northeast at 19 kph.
The number of deaths in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, jumped to at least 877 on Friday as information trickled in from remote areas previously cut off by the storm, according to a Reuters tally of tolls from officials.
Matthew rampaged through Haiti’s western peninsula on Tuesday with 233kph winds and torrential rain. Some 61,500 people were in shelters, officials said, after the storm hurled the sea into fragile coastal villages, some of which were only now being contacted.
At least three towns in the hills and coast of Haiti’s fertile western tip reported dozens of people killed, including the farming village of Chantal whose mayor said 86 people died, mostly when trees crushed houses. He said 20 others were missing.
“A tree fell on the house and flattened it. The entire house fell on us. I couldn’t get out,” said 27-year-old driver Jean-Pierre Jean-Donald.
“People came to lift the rubble, and then we saw my wife who had died in the same spot,” said Jean-Donald, who had been married for only a year. His young daughter stood by his side, crying “Mommy.”
With cellphone networks down and roads flooded, aid has been slow to reach hard-hit areas. Food was scarce and at least seven people died of cholera, likely because of flood water mixing with sewage.
The Mesa Verde, a US Navy amphibious transport dock ship, was en route to Haiti to support relief efforts. The ship has heavy-lift helicopters, bulldozers, fresh-water delivery vehicles and two surgical operating rooms.
Cuts power to almost 800,000 Florida homes, businesses
Electricity companies in Florida said Hurricane Matthew knocked out power to almost 800,000 homes and businesses on Friday as the storm blasted the state’s east coast.
Though still early, the number of power outages did not seem as high as previously projected.
On Thursday, NextEra Energy Inc’s FPL power company, the biggest in Florida, forecast Matthew could leave as many as 2.5m homes and businesses without service, some for extended periods of time.
Matthew, the first major hurricane threatening a direct hit on the United States in more than 10 years, lashed Florida with heavy rain and wind, after killing more than 800 people in Haiti as it marched north through the Caribbean.
It was packing winds of 120 miles per hour, making it a powerful Category 3 hurricane as it heads north toward the Georgia and South Carolina coasts by early Saturday, the hurricane centre said.
The NHC forecast Matthew would weaken into a tropical storm in about two days as it turns south on a track that would take it back over the Bahamas and Florida again by the middle of next week.
With so many power outages, the state’s utilities do not have to import as much natural gas as usual to generate electricity.
The amount of gas flowing into the state on the Florida Gas pipeline from Texas and Louisiana was expected to fall by about 800 million cubic feet per day on Friday from an average of 2.7bn cubic feet per day over the past 30 days, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Economic impact, business closures
Hurricane Matthew is threatening the Atlantic coast from Florida to South Carolina and could deliver tens of billions of dollars in damage, according to experts, after the storm killed 900 people and left thousands homeless in Haiti.
Fitch Ratings estimates that if Matthew results in insured losses in excess of $10bn, a greater proportion of losses will be borne by re-insurers as opposed to primary companies.
CoreLogic, a California-based real estate data firm, estimated the storm could cause up to $189bn in storm surge damage to residential property in Florida alone.
In comparison, recovery costs from Superstorm Sandy totalled $71.3bn in New York and New Jersey in 2012, according to estimates from their governors.
Here is a summary of closures and disruptions due to the hurricane.
South Florida airports closed. Flights at Miami International Airport were resuming on Friday.
CSX Corp Florida line from Auburndale to Jacksonville halted; Norfolk Southern Corp traffic en route to affected regions being held.
Ryder System Miami headquarters closed; FedEx contingency plans in place, potential service disruptions; UPS contingency plans in place.
Talmadge Memorial Bridge (CQ) in Savannah, Georgia, to close. All traffic ordered to stay off roads in coastal island community in Tybee Island in the state.
Nordstrom 15 Florida stores closed; Neiman Marcus 5 stores closed; Lumber Liquidators 15 stores closed.
Dollar General, Office Depot closures followed evacuation orders.
Costco closed unspecified number of Florida stores, reported higher sales of emergency items in the region.
Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida, and SeaWorld closed.
Norwegian Cruise Line cruise ship diverted from Bahamas; Carnival Cruise Line, a unit of Carnival Corp route adjustments as needed.