Strong winds leave 600,000 residents in the US state of Florida without power, as storm surge threatens Atlantic coast.
The steady march of Hurricane Matthew has left more than 1 million customers in Florida without power, state officials said, as the storm moved north along the US east coast after killing hundreds of people in Haiti.
The updated totals were released on Friday as the powerful storm, now downgraded to a Category 2, headed towards the state of Georgia, still packing wind gusts of up to 100 km per hour.
A woman in her late 50s suffered a medical emergency and died in her home in central Florida’s St. Lucie County, as high winds prevented rescue workers from reaching her, a Florida fire department spokeswoman told AFP news agency.
At Cape Canaveral, strong winds lashed NASA’s rocket launch facility, forcing power outages and damaging roofs, the US space agency said.
Rockets, spaceships and crucial equipment for the US space programme and private companies like SpaceX are all stored in the area, which is home to the Kennedy Space Centre.
President Barack Obama urged residents in the path to heed emergency officials’ warnings, adding that although there has already been “significant damage”, storm surge and flooding are still a major concern.
“People should listen to their local officials,” if they urge them to move away from storm surges, Obama said.
“We can always replace property,” but we cannot replace lives, he told reporters following a briefing with his top federal emergency and security officials.
|Hurricane Matthew is also threatening US states Georgia and the Carolinas [AFP]|
Less damage than expected
Florida Governor Rick Scott also warned that storm waves could reach as high as three metres and cause extensive flooding, and urged people who are still in their homes to get out.
Al Jazeera’s Andy Gallacher, reporting from Fort Lauderdale, said the southern coast of Florida had been spared by Matthew’s direct hit.
“A lot less damage, a lot less impact that we were expecting perhaps 12 hours ago,” our correspondent said.
Still, Hurricane Matthew caused major problems for travelers, with at least 4,500 flights canceled so far between Wednesday and Saturday, according to tracking service FlightAware.
All flights to and from Orlando cancelled on Friday and half of all flights were cancelled in the lead up to Saturday.
As the storm moves north, so do cancellations in Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston and other major cities along the east coast.
Airports in southern Florida began to reopen late on Friday, however, and flights were expected to resume by midday.
Airlines moved planes and crews out of the storm’s path and must now fly them back into the region.
Hurricane Matthew left at least 572 people killed in Haiti alone.
Analysis: Rob McElwee, Al Jazeera Senior Weather Presenter