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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.