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‘Once in a century storm’

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Hurricane Matthew lashed the southeastern US coast with driving wind and rain Friday, flooding streets with ocean water, leaving more than a million people without power and claiming four lives.

Millions of Americans were subject to evacuation orders and curfews were slapped on cities as the lethal storm barrelled north after killing hundreds of people in Haiti, and storming through Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic – where it left four dead – and the Bahamas.

“The weather experts have described Matthew as a once in a 100-year type of storm,” said Mayor Lenny Curry in Jacksonville, Florida, home to 850,000 people – nearly half of whom had been evacuated. “We want our citizens to be safe. Our focus throughout this event has been public safety.”

Matthew savaged Haiti as a ruinous Category 4 hurricane, but weakened as it approached the US mainland, where emergency services were on lockdown and millions of people were urged to evacuate.

The National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said Matthew packed 175km/h winds, with torrential rains and storm surges of up to three meters capable of devastating damage.

“This is still a really dangerous hurricane,” said President Barack Obama. “The potential for storm surge, flooding, loss of life and severe property damage continues to exist.”

He has declared federal states of emergency in Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. Authorities struck almost apocalyptic tones, with increasingly urgent warning to evacuate coastal and low-lying areas, but many heeded no intention, hunkering down at home.

Torrential rain and strong winds lashed cities, bringing down trees, causing tall buildings to sway after night fell and turning normally bustling population centers into ghost towns.

At least four people died in Florida – two women killed by falling trees – a third woman from a heart attack and an 82-year-old man who experienced stroke-like symptoms and whom paramedics could not reach.

Matthew damaged roofs at the Kennedy Space Centre but spared Florida’s heavily populated south-central coast a direct hit. “The worst effects are still likely to come,” warned Governor Rick Scott. (AFP)

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