MIAMI (CBSMiami) – South Florida dodged the so-called bullet when it comes to dangerous and deadly Hurricane Matthew. The storm, which left hundreds of people dead in Haiti and left a swath of destruction throughout the Caribbean, spared Miami-Dade and Broward counties on Thursday.
The most powerful storm to threaten the U.S. Atlantic coast in more than a decade moved toward Florida with winds of 140 mph early Thursday but by the 5:00 p.m. advisory, it was clear the most devastating part of the storm didn’t move inland as far south as first expected. Matthew stayed about 100 miles or more off South Florida, sparing the 4.4 million people in the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas from its most punishing effects.
“We were lucky this time,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said.
Thursday night, a Hurricane Warning for Broward County was downgraded to a Tropical Storm Warning and the Tropical Storm Warning for Monroe County was canceled. Miami-Dade County remained under a Tropical Storm Warning Thursday.
Despite the fact that South Florida was spared the brunt of the storm, thousands of people remain without power in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
And while South Florida residents are breathing a collective sigh of relief, the same cannot be said for our central and north Florida neighbors. Matthew is still considered dangerous and has maximum sustained winds of 130 mph.
Thursday night, Gov. Rick Scott called the storm a “monster” and urged residents to stay in a safe place for the entire event.
“There’s no reason to take a chance,” he said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Millions of residents in the South are still under evacuation orders as Tropical Storm force winds begin rolling ashore Florida’s East Coast.
The hurricane is expected to blow ashore — or come dangerously close to doing so — early Friday north of West Palm Beach, which has about 1.1 million people, and then slowly push north for the next 12 hours along the Interstate 95 corridor, through Cape Canaveral and Jacksonville, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Forecasters said it would then probably hug the coast of Georgia and South Carolina over the weekend before veering out to sea — perhaps even looping back toward Florida in the middle of next week as a tropical storm.
Millions of people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were told to evacuate their homes, and interstate highways were turned into one-way routes to speed the exodus. Florida alone accounted for about 1.5 million of those told to clear out.
The hurricane picked up wind speed as it closed in, growing from a possibly devastating Category 3 storm to a potentially catastrophic Category 4. Forecasters said it could dump up to 15 inches of rain in some spots and cause a storm surge of 9 feet or more.
They said the major threat to the Southeast would not be the winds — which newer buildings can withstand — but the massive surge of seawater that could wash over coastal communities along a 500-mile stretch from South Florida to the Charleston, South Carolina, area.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Florida and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and personnel to protect lives and property.
Hurricane warnings have been extended northward to South Santee River, South Carolina. This includes locations such as Orlando, Jacksonville, Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina.
A hurricane warning remains in effect along the east coast of Florida north of Boca Raton, as well as the northwest Bahamas.
Hurricane Matthew is considered the strongest Florida east coast strike since Hurricane Andrew.