NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Updated: Friday, October 7, 2016, 8:31 AM
Florida reported its first Hurricane Matthew-related death early Friday as the monster storm battered the Sunshine State, beginning its vicious journey up the U.S.’s southeastern coast.
A 58-year-old woman died from cardiac arrest in her Port St. Lucie home, officials told WPTV.
While she did not live on the area’s barrier islands — the region considered most susceptible to the hurricane’s fury — medical crews could not respond to her calls for help because of the storm.
While the powerful storm was downgraded from a catastrophic Category 4 to a less-severe Category 3 early Friday, it still pummeled Vero Beach before dawn with sweeping winds, up to 120 mph just off the shore.
Just to the north, Florida’s Space Coast prepared for possible landfall.
As of 6 a.m. EDT Friday, the hurricane’s western eyewall was brushing Cape Canaveral — meaning the center of the storm is still about 25 miles off the coast, according to the National Hurricane Center.
About two million people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were urged to flee their coastal homes ahead of the hurricane, the most powerful storm to threaten the Atlantic coast in more than a decade.
Commuters make their way through heavy rain in Jacksonville, Fla., Thursday.
(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Before hugging the Florida coast, Matthew wreaked havoc through the Caribbean, killing more than 280 people.
“This storm’s a monster,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned as Matthew approached the state. “The storm has already killed people. We should expect the same impact in Florida.”
The storm spared the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area — and its 4.4 million residents — from the most punishing storm effects overnight Thursday, as it teetered 100 miles or more off South Florida. It creeped closer to Florida’s shoreline as it traveled northward.
Ted Houston and his dog Kermit visit the beach as Hurricane Matthew approaches the area Thursday in Palm Beach.
After Florida, forecasters said Matthew will likely hug the coast of Georgia and South Carolina over the weekend before veering out to sea — perhaps even looping back toward Florida in the middle of next week as a tropical storm.
Forecasters said the tempest could dump up to 15 inches of rain in some spots and cause a storm surge of 9 feet or more.
But the major threat to the Southeast would not be the winds — which newer buildings can withstand — but the massive surge of seawater that could wash over coastal communities along a 500-mile stretch from South Florida to the Charleston, S.C., area.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, freeing up federal money and personnel to protect lives and property.
The pending storm canceled travelers’ plans across the southeast. Many Florida airports shut down as Matthew approached, and airlines canceled more than 3,000 flights Thursday and Friday, many of them in or out of Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
Amtrak suspended train service between Miami and New York, and cruise lines rerouted ships to avoid the storm, which in some cases will mean more days at sea.
Rod Smith (r.), hugs his wife Karen as they watch the churning surf on Satellite Beach Thursday.
Even Orlando’s world-famous theme parks — Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld — all shuttered amid storm fears.
The last Category 3 storm or higher to hit the U.S. was Wilma in October 2005. It sliced across Florida with 120 mph winds, killing five people and causing an estimated $ 21 billion in damage.
With News Wire Services