Matthew Strengthens To Category 4 Hurricane

MIAMI (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Matthew and Tropical Storm Nicole (all times local):

11 a.m.

Hurricane Matthew has strengthened to a catastrophic Category 4 storm as it barrels toward the heavily populated coast of Florida.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm’s maximum sustained winds had strengthened to 140 mph as of late Thursday morning and were expected to maintain their strength as the storm approaches the Florida coast.

Hurricane conditions were also still affecting the Bahamas. The storm was expected to start affecting Florida by early afternoon Thursday.

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10 a.m.

Gov. Nikki Haley says parts of two counties along South Carolina’s northern coast are being evacuated ahead of Hurricane Matthew.

Haley told reporters Thursday morning evacuation orders go into effect at noon Thursday for parts of Horry and Georgetown counties.

Haley warned anyone in an evacuation zone not to take the orders lightly. She says surge from the storm could be as high as 8 feet and affect not only the coast but also areas farther inland.

So far, Haley says 175,000 people have evacuated from the coast. On Wednesday, the state reversed the eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia, allowing more motorists to move inland at once.

Forecasters say they expect Matthew to strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall in Florida, turning north and passing just off the South Carolina coast late Friday or early Saturday.

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9:45 a.m.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory says the latest predictions show that his state will avoid a direct hit from Hurricane Matthew.

But emergency workers are continuing to prepare for high winds, rain and storm surge.

McCrory says North Carolina cities like Jacksonville and Morehead City could still see wind gusts of up to 60 mph beginning Saturday. Widespread power outages are possible. There could be a foot of rain in some areas.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the hurricane is strengthening and called it dangerous and life-threatening. About 1.5 million people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate.

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9:10 a.m.

The head of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Authority says the capital Nassau is now receiving the full brunt of Hurricane Matthew.

Capt. Stephen Russell says there are many downed trees and power lines but no immediate reports of significant flooding or casualties as of early Thursday. Russell says Nassau should feel the full effects of Matthew for much of the day.

“We are experiencing the brunt of the hurricane force winds now so we just have to wait and see how we fare over the next five of six hours,” he told The Associated Press.

Nassau is on the most populous island of New Providence in the central Bahamas. The streets were deserted as palm fronds flew through the air under heavy rain. Those in Nassau without generators are without power because authorities shut down the power when winds reach 40 mph to protect the grid. The major tourist hotels are on generator power.

The storm is now clear of the lightly populated islands of the southern Bahamas and Russell says there are no reports of any significant damage or casualties on those islands.

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9:05 a.m.

Officials at Florida’s major airports are monitoring conditions as Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida.

On its website, Fort Lauderdale International Airport announced plans to close at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Officials advised travelers to check with individual airlines about flight plans.

In Miami, officials at Miami International Airport say they will continue monitoring the storm and warned of possible flight cancelations. On its website, officials noted that generally “airports don’t’ operate in sustained crosswinds that exceed 35 mph.”

On Twitter, Miami airport officials said 341 arrivals and 305 departures had been canceled by mid-morning Thursday — or about 90 percent of the daily flight schedule.

The Palm Beach International Airport website didn’t’ mention any flight suspensions but asked travelers to stay away.

In a note on its website, officials at Orlando International Airport say they plan to being “reducing flights into Orlando and altering schedules starting Thursday, lasting through Friday.” They advised travelers to contact individual airlines for flight plans.

The Jacksonville International Airport website also advises travelers to check flight status with the airlines before heading to the airport.

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9:05 a.m.

A motorist shot during an altercation with South Carolina deputies over a Hurricane Matthew evacuation route has died.

Berkeley County Chief Deputy Coroner George Oliver says 35-year-old Lucas M. Felkel of Moncks Corner died shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Sheriff Duane Lewis says it happened about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Moncks Corner when a motorist came to a checkpoint, knocked down some traffic cones and sped off.

The sheriff says when deputies finally caught up with the driver a few miles away he pointed a gun at deputies and started shooting. The sheriff says the deputies shot back, wounding the man who was taken to the hospital, where he later died.

No deputies were wounded, but the sheriff says that four deputies have been placed on administrative leave.

The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating. The coroner says an autopsy is scheduled.

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9 a.m.

Officials at Florida’s major airports are monitoring conditions as Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida.

On its website, Fort Lauderdale International Airport announced plans to close at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Officials advised travelers to check with individual airlines about flight plans.

In Miami, officials at Miami International Airport will continue monitoring the storm and warned of possible flight cancelations. On its website, officials noted that generally “airports don’t’ operate in sustained crosswinds that exceed 35 mph.”

On Twitter, Miami airport officials said 341 arrivals and 305 departures had been canceled by mid-morning Thursday, “which is about 90% of our daily flight schedule.” Officials also tweeted that “it’s expected by noon most flights will stop flying,” but the airport “technically remains ‘open’ and ready for when flights resume.”

The Palm Beach International Airport website doesn’t say when flights will be suspended, but asked travelers to stay away, noting that the airport is not intended for use as a shelter.

In Orlando airport officials are preparing for hurricane conditions. In a note on its website, officials at Orlando International Airport say they plan to being “reducing flights into Orlando and altering schedules starting Thursday, lasting through Friday.” They, too, advise travelers to get in contact with individual airlines for flight plans.

The Jacksonville International Airport website also advises travelers to check flight status with the airlines before heading to the airport.

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8:55 a.m.

Orlando’s major theme parks remain open as Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida.

Walt Disney World has canceled Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, a special ticket event scheduled for Thursday night. Otherwise, according to the Disney website, officials continue to monitor the storm.

Orlando is under a hurricane warning with the storm expected to approach the area later Thursday and into Friday.

A message on Universal Orlando’s website says there are currently “no changes to our operating hours.”

SeaWorld Orlando’s website says the park will be open at 10 a.m. and close at 2 p.m. on Thursday. It will be closed on Friday and currently plans to reopen at 10 a.m. Saturday.

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8:45 a.m.

In Daytona Beach, the owners of the Sahara Motel refunded money to four remaining guests and were finishing securing their property as Hurricane Matthew roars toward Florida’s coastline.

Laura Axelsen says the winds are getting stronger Thursday morning as they finish boarding up windows at the two-story, mom-and-pop motel that sits across the street from the Atlantic Ocean.

She says they stopped renting rooms two nights ago, but normally rent about 40 rooms per night.

Her father, Ray Gohill, has owned the motel for 38 years.

Axelsen says the motel had extensive roof damage in 2005 when they were hit by three storms.

Once they secure the motel, Axelsen says they’ll be heading to a safer area to ride out the storm. She says the motel has nothing to block it from the winds. There are no larger hotels across the street on the beachside of Atlantic Avenue.

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8:30 a.m.

City officials in Charleston, South Carolina, which weathered Category 4 Hurricane Hugo almost 30 years ago, say the city has run out of sandbags after distributing more than for any other storm.

The city has distributed more than 15,000 sandbags as residents prepare for Hurricane Matthew. There were long lines of motorists waiting to get sandbags at one distribution point on the city’s north side late Wednesday.

Charleston is prone to flooding even in summer thunderstorms and if people need to sandbags now, they will have to get them at hardware or home stores.

The upscale community of Kiawah Island southwest of Charleston plans to close at noon Thursday when officials barricade the entrance to the gated community. Fire and emergency equipment will be moved to the mainland.

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8 a.m.

Forecasters say the first outer rain bands from Hurricane Matthew already have begun to approach Florida as the big storm crosses the Bahamas toward the state.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Matthew is still a Category 3 hurricane as of 8 a.m. Thursday, packing top sustained winds up to 125 mph. It’s still expected to become an even more powerful Category 4 storm in coming hours as it approaches Florida’s east coast starting Thursday night.

The storm is centered about 215 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida and moving northwest toward the state at 12 mph.

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7:45 a.m.

Authorities say a motorist in South Carolina was shot and wounded by deputies during an altercation over a Hurricane Matthew evacuation route.

Berkeley County Sheriff Duane Lewis tells local news outlets it happened about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday in Moncks Corner when a motorist came to a check point, knocked down some traffic cones and sped off.

The sheriff says when deputies finally caught up with the driver a few miles away he pointed a gun at deputies and started shooting. The sheriff says the deputies shot back, wounding the man who was taken to the hospital. His name and condition were not immediately released.

No deputies were wounded, but the sheriff says that four deputies have been placed on administrative leave.

The State Law Enforcement Division is investigating.

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7:40 a.m.

State regulators are urging dam owners in South Carolina to begin reducing the water levels in their ponds and lakes.

The Department of Health and Environmental Control said Wednesday that water levels behind the dams should be reduced before rains come from Hurricane Matthew.

Dam failures one year ago caused and worsened flooding that hit central and coastal South Carolina last October. Some parts of the state got 20 inches of rain in one day last year.

Hurricane Matthew is not expected to bring that much rain to most sections in the date, but the state agency warms the rains could still cause problems with the dams.

State officials also are reminding owners of dams to notify those with dams farther downstream they are releasing water.

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7:20 a.m.

Officials at Florida’s major airports are monitoring conditions as Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida.

On its website, Fort Lauderdale International Airport announced plans to close at 10:30 a.m. Thursday. Officials advised travelers to check with individual airlines about flight plans.

Officials at Miami International Airport will continue monitoring the storm and warned of possible flight cancellations. On its website, officials noted that generally “airports don’t’ operate in sustained crosswinds that exceed 35 mph.”

The Palm Beach International Airport website doesn’t say when flights will be suspended, but asked travelers to stay away, noting that the airport is not intended for use as a shelter.

In Orlando airport officials are preparing for hurricane conditions. In a note on its website, officials at Orlando International Airport say they plan to being “reducing flights into Orlando and altering schedules starting Thursday, lasting through Friday.” They, too, advise travelers to get in contact with individual airlines for flight plans.

The Jacksonville International Airport website also advises travelers to check flight status with the airlines before heading to the airport.

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6:55 a.m.

With Hurricane Matthew approaching Florida, patients are being transferred from two waterfront hospitals and a nursing home near Daytona Beach to facilities away from the coast.

Florida Hospital Oceanside in Ormond Beach and Florida Hospital New Smyrna moved about 85 patients Wednesday. The emergency room at Oceanside also was closed on Wednesday, but the emergency room at Florida Hospital New Smyrna remained open.

Halifax Health Medical Center, a public health system in Daytona Beach, plans to be fully staffed during the hurricane’s passage. Spokesman John Guthrie tells The Daytona Beach News-Journal (http://bit.ly/2d5oIg4) the hospital is ready to take care of any medical emergencies during the storm.

One of the area’s largest nursing homes, meanwhile, is relocating about 170 patients to five facilities in the area. Receptionist Sandy Longenecker at Ocean View Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in New Smyrna Beach told the newspaper the moves are being made before a bridge to the mainland would close to traffic.

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6:30 a.m.

Officials say some 3,000 people have already checked into shelters in Florida ahead of Hurricane Matthew’s approach.

According to the Florida Division of Emergency Management, 48 shelters are already providing refuge for 3,015 people in Florida. Another 13 special needs shelters are already housing 31 people.

The shelters are all in schools in areas where evacuations — either mandatory or voluntary — are underway. The Florida counties include Broward, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, St. Lucie, Glades, Martin, Duval and Brevard.

Special needs shelters are designed to aid people with disabilities. Shelters are listed at floridadisaster.org.

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6:10 a.m.

The murder trial of a man accused of intentionally leaving his toddler son in a hot SUV to die is being put on hold as Hurricane Matthew heads toward the Georgia coast where the man’s being prosecuted.

Local news organizations report a judge said the trial of Justin Ross Harris would be in recess Thursday and Friday and resume Monday.

Prosecutors have said Harris intentionally killed his 22-month-old son, Cooper, by leaving him for hours in a vehicle parked outside the father’s workplace in Cobb County near Atlanta. Cooper’s lawyers say the death was accidental.

The trial was moved to Brunswick on the coast because of pretrial publicity.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal on Wednesday urged residents of several coastal counties, including the one where Brunswick is located, to evacuate.

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5:10 a.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Matthew has gained new muscle over the Bahamas and they are also expanding the hurricane warning area further up the Southeast Atlantic seacoast from Florida into Georgia.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami says Matthew’s top sustained winds have risen from 115 mph (185 kph) to 125 mph (205 mph) in just a few hours early Thursday as the storm continues to batter the central Bahamas.

The center says it is extending a hurricane warning area already covering a large swath of Florida’s Atlantic coast further northward to Altamaha Sound, Georgia. It also says a newly expanded hurricane watch now extends from the Altamaha Sound up the coast to the South Santee River in South Carolina.

The center added in its 5 a.m. Thursday update that Matthew should gain further in intensity over the next day or so and is forecast to become a Category 4 storm as it approaches Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Matthew’s center is now about 255 miles (410 kilometers) southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida, and moving northwest at 12 mph (19 kph) over the Bahamas.

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2 a.m.

Forecasters say Hurricane Matthew is now pounding portions of the Central Bahamas and is expected to strengthen as it approaches Florida.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew remains a powerful Category 3 storm with top sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) as of 2 a.m. EDT Thursday. It added that Matthew is expected to intensify over the next day or so and is forecast to again become a dangerous Category 4 hurricane as it nears Florida’s Atlantic coast.

Matthew was briefly a very dangerous Category 5 storm on its march across the Caribbean. By early Thursday, Matthew was centered about 295 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida. It also was about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas.

The Miami forecasting center said no changes have been made to the existing hurricane and tropical storm warnings and watches as of 2 a.m. EDT.

(© Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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