Jacksonville hunkers down and waits for Matthew's arrival
JACKSONVILLE -- The first coast, as Jacksonville calls itself, is also the last stop in Florida for Hurricane Matthew. It's a very big target, too: With 840 square miles, Jacksonville is the biggest city by land mass in the U.S. (Jacksonville and Duval County are one and the same, the only consolidated city-county government in the state).
It's also a city bisected by the St. Johns River and by a series of bridges over the Intracoastal Waterway, making high winds and heavy rains even more perilous. City officials reminded everyone to stay put as the storm's eyewall ventured northward.
"Hunker down and stay safe," Mayor Lenny Curry said Friday as he reassured the city's nearly 1 million residents that cleanup efforts will begin as soon as possible Saturday -- as soon as the storm passes. "We are prepared for the back end of this," Curry said.
City officials announced the first positive news in days as the National Weather Service said Matthew has been downgraded from a Category 4 to a "high end Category 2, Category 3" storm with a drop in predicted peak winds in northeast Florida later Friday of 60 to 80 mph and gusts of up to 90 mph.
NWS meteorologist Angie Enyedi said that's still serious enough to produce fallen trees, power outages, structural damage and flooding in low-lying areas, like the upscale San Marco community just south of downtown. The potential threat of life-threatening storm surge on the coastline also persists, she said.
In a Times/Herald interview at the city's downtown emergency operations center, Curry, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, said he will be greatly relieved if the storm's impact turns out to be less than severe than predicted.
"I've been running on adrenaline, as have many people," said Curry, who added that he makes no apologies for his dire warnings of Matthew's force and his insistence on a large-scale evacuation. "Anybody who wants to criticize me for taking it seriously, I'll take those slings and arrows all day long."
Gov. Rick Scott is expected to visit Jacksonville as early as Saturday to monitor the work of utility crews working to restore power. And as luck would have it, this is a bye week for the hometown NFL Jaguars.