READY FOR IMPACT

Hurricane upgraded to Category 4, bears down on Florida

Hurricane Matthew has upgraded to a Category 4 storm, prompting emergency officials to further stress the importance of preparedness and evacuating at-risk areas. 

According to the National Weather Service, almost all counties on the East Coast of Florida – and nearby inland counties – are under a hurricane warning. And many more counties are under a tropical storm warning or hurricane watch.

Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the hurricane warning area by Friday, with the storm “moving close to or over the East Coast of Florida” through tonight, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Putnam County Emergency Management Capt. Paul Flateau said Hurricane Matthew would have a major impact locally. 

“The (category) number is not really going to matter,” Flateau said. “Whether it’s (Category) 3 or 4, the impact is going to be significant. We’re expected to get tropical storm-force or low hurricane-force winds for 24 hours.”

According to an Emergency Management situation report issued Thursday, Hurricane Matthew’s will be near Flagler County today. 

A hurricane of this magnitude hasn’t affected this area for more than a century, according to the report, which is why emergency officials are warning people to take this threat seriously. 

“By late Friday afternoon, Hurricane Matthew is anticipated to be 25 miles offshore of Palm Coast,” according to the situation report. “Near the Flagler coastline, forecasted winds are 85 to 95 mph with gusts (up) to 105 to 115 mph. 

“A major hurricane has not impacted this area in 118 years, since Oct. 2, 1898. There is no local living memory of the potential of this event. If a direct landfall occurs, this will be unlike any hurricane in the modern era.”

By now, Flateau said, people should have already evacuated low-lying and unsound structures, because doing so as the hurricane is over Putnam is too late. 

At 3 p.m. Thursday, Emergency Management opened emergency shelters at Ochwilla Elementary in Melrose, Interlachen Elementary, Browning-Pearce Elementary in San Mateo, Middleton-Burney Elementary in Crescent City and Kelley Smith Elementary in Palatka. 

The Kelley Smith shelter is for only people with special needs, while the Ochwilla location is the shelter for people with pets. 

“You must have somebody there with your pet,” Flateau said. “And it has to be a pet that’s easily controlled.”

Flateau said shelters were already expected to reach capacity Thursday, but he encouraged people who have family or friends in safer to stay with them for the duration of the hurricane. 

But anyone who evacuates to a local emergency shelter should bring with them food, clothing, medicine, pet supplies, bedding and anything else they’d need during an emergency, Flateau said. The shelters won’t supply occupants with those supplies, he said. 

“When they come there, make sure they bring all the stuff that they need,” Flateau said. “It’s going to be an area of last resort.”

For up-to-date hurricane information, visit Putnam County Emergency Management on Facebook, @putnamcountyEM on Twitter, the Putnam Community Preparedness app or the CodeRED Mobile app.

People can also sign up for email or text message updates at putnamalert.com.