The National Hurricane Center downgraded Hurricane Matthew to a Category 3 on Friday, but US officials are warning that the worst may be yet to come for the southeast, thanks in part to the looming threat of a storm surge. Miami, Palm Beach County, and Port Lucie County were spared the brunt of Matthew.
Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told NBC that he was concerned that Florida's relative good fortune thus far would give people a false sense of security.
About 3.1 million people were ordered to evacuate from Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. As of midday, nearly 1 million households in Florida were without power.
Hurricane Matthew barrelled through Haiti this week with devastating consequences.
By Friday, the death toll had soared to 842. Coastal towns and fishing villages on the southern coast were reportedly the hardest hit, and many were killed by overflowing rivers, falling trees, and flying debris.
In the city of Jeremie, 80 percent of the buildings were levelled, the BBC reported. It was the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in Haiti since 1964.
Delivering aid to the affected areas in the aftermath of the storm has been challenging, due to roads obstructed by debris and the fact that telecoms are down.
A hurricane warning is in place for Jacksonville, the largest metropolitan area in the US, which is located in the northeastern part of Florida. It's reportedly the first time in 17 years the city has endured a hurricane warning.
Beach communities on barrier islands are linked to the mainland by a series of bridges. Despite warnings from city officials that the worst was yet to come from Matthew, only about 30 percent of residents living near the beaches had evacuated. In a bid to get people moving, officials imposed a curfew and suspended alcohol sales on the islands from Thursday until Saturday morning.
Water rushing into Jacksonville beach @ActionNewsJax #hurricanematthew #firstalertwx pic.twitter.com/rzdHTkOwvv
— Ashley Hollander (@AshleyANjax) October 7, 2016
Authorities close the bridges that link the islands with the mainland when winds exceed 30 to 40 miles per hour. If people choose to stay, they will be cut off from any emergency services.
WJXT reported that the high winds had ripped off a portion of the Jacksonville pier on Friday afternoon.
ST. AUGUSTINE, FLORIDA
On Friday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center reported wind gusts of 86 miles per hour in St. Augustine.
Surge really looking horrible for Central/North FL coast. This posted from near St. Augustine: https://t.co/qXY6hJ22hq #Matthew pic.twitter.com/xb4BbHZg8G
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) October 7, 2016
Zookeepers from the Alligator Farm Zoological Park wrote on Facebook that every bird and mammal had been moved indoors; small tortoises and baby crocodiles were transferred into "various tubs" and storks were "hanging out in the public restrooms."
Don— Julie Cohen (@SturgeonQueens) October 7, 2016
Half of the city's 14,000 residents have reportedly ignored mandatory evacuation orders, despite the possibility of an eight-foot storm surge. On Friday morning, police were reportedly patrolling the area with a bullhorn to get people moving.
WHERE TO NEXT?
President Barack Obama signed a state of emergency decree for South Carolina on Thursday. He'd signed a similar decree for Florida earlier.
The eye of the storm is expected to travel up Florida's coastline on Friday evening, hitting Georgia and South Carolina on Saturday. The Weather Channel reported a tornado warning for coastal South Carolina and Georgia from about 3pm ET until midnight.
Matthew is not expected to make landfall in South Carolina and Georgia, but it still poses a huge threat due to possible flash floods, storm surges, and high winds.
Additional reporting by Kayla Ruble