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Hurricane Matthew Takes Aim At Florida's East Coast


And this morning we are tracking Hurricane Matthew, which is the biggest hurricane to hit the state of Florida in a decade. That storm weakened a bit overnight. Of course, weak is a relative term. It is still a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph. The National Hurricane Center is describing Matthew as, quote, "extremely dangerous." NPR's Greg Allen is on the line from Palm Beach Gardens.

Hey, Greg.


GREENE: So I gather you're in a spot where the worst of the storm has already passed, so let me start with that. How bad did things get there?

ALLEN: Right, this area in Palm Beach County was really one of the first communities in Florida to get the full brunt, or at least some of the brunt, of Hurricane Matthew. It came through here yesterday, yesterday evening, until the early morning hours. And basically what we saw was a wind event, a lot of high winds, a lot of trees down. I think in all, there's - more than a half-million people lost power at some point in Florida. We've had 100,000 people lose power in Palm Beach County here. Many have since had that power restored.

But compare that to what we've seen here so far to what happened in the Caribbean where Hurricane Matthew had a terrible toll, killing at least 280 people in Haiti alone. Right now, it's off the coast of Cape Canaveral, and that's the closest pass yet to the coast. And up there, we've seen gusts reported over 100 miles per hour.

GREENE: Over 100 miles per hour, and when we spoke earlier, you were suggesting that if this thing actually came ashore it could get catastrophic in Florida. Is that - is that still possible or is it looking like it's going to stay close to but not actually come across the shore?

ALLEN: I think landfall is looking much less possible now. We've got recent advisories from the National Hurricane Center, and they've just showed the storm is still - the eye wall is very close to the coast, but it's still about several - 40 - I think it's 40 miles - the eye's something like 40 miles offshore. So you get hurricane force winds something like 60 miles from the center. They're getting high winds on the coast, but that's a lot different picture than if it actually came ashore and you got the full 120-mile-per-hour wind.

GREENE: So we might - we might be looking back at this as a really close call that could have been much worse. You mentioned what happened in the Caribbean and Haiti, you know, 280 people or more dead. Is that because Haiti is a place that just doesn't have the same infrastructure as Florida to be prepared to bear the brunt of a storm like this?

ALLEN: Well, I think that's a - that's certainly a large part of it. The other thing is that, you know, the storm went over Haiti, went over the - that area along the southern - that peninsula in Haiti, hit the southern coast. And so - and at that point, the storm was much more powerful than it is now.

The other big issue there was the amount of rainfall. Because of Haiti's mountainous structure it - the way these storms work, it got a lot more rain than we've gotten here. We saw - we saw a substantial amount of rain, but we see - we often see a substantial amount of rain in Florida. This was not that unusual compared to what we can see on a typical tropical depression. So I think it was the rain event and of course the just - the much stronger wind speeds they saw there.

GREENE: And, Greg, take us into the mind of Floridians. I know sometimes they hear all these warnings about evacuating, and they say, come on, we're going to ride this out. But at this time, it seemed to strike a nerve, and a lot of people took those warnings and got away from the coast.

ALLEN: Right. There's kind of a collective, you know, unconscious here about hurricanes that goes back to Hurricane Andrew and earlier. Hurricane Andrew in '92, the only - one of the few Category 5 hurricanes to hit the U.S. And of course, Wilma, as you mentioned, hit here just over 10 years ago, had a big impact on people. Our governor, Rick Scott, took it very seriously. He's done a nonstop series of news events, telling people to get out if you're under evacuation order. He's been very forceful in that. Local TV has been on nonstop for the last two days over this storm, telling people what to - how to get ready. And so it's something people have taken very seriously, and there's signs they did evacuate and shelters are full.

GREENE: And I guess it's worth mentioning this is still heading north, and states like South Carolina are bracing to be hit.

ALLEN: Right. And when - storm surge has not been a problem so far for us terribly but expected to be more of a problem as the storm moves north. And they're preparing for that along north Florida, Georgia and into South Carolina.

GREENE: OK. That's NPR's Greg Allen who is speaking to us from Palm Beach Gardens on the Atlantic coast of Florida where the storm has already passed right now. The storm is near Cape Canaveral where there have been reports of 100-mile-an-hour winds. We'll be monitoring Hurricane Matthew's journey up the coast throughout the day.

Greg, thanks a lot.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.