Small shift in Matthew’s track makes big (and good) difference for South Florida

Kite surfer takes advantage of gusty winds on Miami Beach

A kite surfer takes advantage of gusty winds caused by Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 6, 2016.
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A kite surfer takes advantage of gusty winds caused by Hurricane Matthew on Oct. 6, 2016.

With pristine views of Biscayne Bay unfolding before him, Alex Macedo stood in an eerily quiet Margaret Pace Park on Thursday morning and tossed coconuts to Mel, his 9-year-old golden retriever, as a storm responsible for a trail of death in the Caribbean approached from the southeast.

Around them, the city was quiet. Businesses were shuttered. And the streets were still, as was Mel, who was as disinterested in the coconut as Macedo was in Hurricane Matthew.

“I’m not scared. Not here,” said Macedo, a 40-year-old tech worker who figured, if anything, the storm might actually bring in more business for him as it caused problems upstate. “I think if you’re up north you should be concerned.”

It turns out that Macedo was probably right on both accounts.

Local officials continued to urge caution Thursday evening about going outside, warning that bad weather, particularly in Broward, was not over. But after two frenzied days of stowing away every bottle of water and every ounce of gasoline available, the millions of people who live in Miami-Dade and Broward counties waited Thursday for a storm that, at least by early evening, never came — appearing to head instead for the northern part of the state.

We do not anticipate major damage.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez

“The great news for Miami-Dade County is basically the worst of the storm will be over by midnight,” Mayor Carlos Gimenez said during a 6 p.m. press conference. “We do not anticipate major damage.”

Matthew wasn’t expected to directly hit South Florida as preparations began this week, but houses were shuttered, flights canceled and ports closed amid concerns that even a small westerly wobble in the storm’s path along the coast could mean severe winds and weather for the region. Instead, Matthew and its 140-mile-per-hour winds tracked a bit more to the north than expected as it passed South Florida, keeping its core about 30 miles east of the previously projected path — far enough away to spare Dade and Broward the worst of it.

A large ficus tree felled at the Miami Shores golf course was one of the few dramatic signs of impact late Thursday, becoming a backdrop for TV reporters.

Some Miami Shores residents found themselves without power much earlier than expected due to a large ficus tree from the Miami Shores Golf Course being uprooted very early Thursday afternoon. Dr. Charles Southerland, who lives across from the golf

Even the rain was mild. Dade and Broward are only expected to see one or two inches, according to John Mitnik, chief engineer for the South Florida Water Management District.

That’s not to say the storm passed with a whimper. At least 31,000 lost power — a minor number compared with expectations of 2.5 million losing power in Central and North Florida. Hollywood struggled to cap an eight-inch water main break.

But on the whole, the day belonged to the businesses that made the potentially risky call to stay open, and the thrill-seekers who hit closed beaches to take advantage of the rough surf and high winds.

On South Beach, for instance, hundreds of surfers waded into the Atlantic. They came from around the world, attracted by the storm and the waves it generated.

“There are people here who would like to see waves of 50 feet,” said Mario Carvajal of Honduras. “There are professional surfers who want to catch the perfect wave.”

Over on Alton Road, Matthew made business winners out of the few food establishments that weren’t shuttered. With all of the area Starbucks closed, Dunkin Donuts saw steady traffic. Staying open until 3 p.m. while Fresh Market and all three Publix stores closed at noon provided Epicure a business boost.

“I’m exhausted,” Pinecrest Bakery and Cafe manager Didier Milian said during a pause in hustling from kitchen to counter to cleaning tables. “I’ve been here since 3 a.m.”

To the north, Jacaranda Italian restaurant in Plantation kept its takeout business bustling — customers ordered about 150 pizzas between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. “Non-stop busy, busy, busy,” said manager Giuseppe Mannino.

Up and down Calle Ocho, many shops and restaurants — the Latin American Cafe, Ace Hardware and Rey’s Pizza — were business as usual in the morning.

But many businesses and residents played it safe Thursday, which Broward Mayor Martin David Kiar credited with the apparent lack of damage. He said at 8 p.m. that there have been no reports of significant damage.

“Folks boarded up their homes. They got supplies,” he said. “They’ve taken themselves out of harms way.”

Broward, like Miami-Dade, expects to reopen its port and transportation services Friday.

The closures, however, were to the dismay of Mike Simms, who with his wife and two friends flew in from Ohio to spend a few days at the beach before setting out on a Carnival cruise to the Caribbean. Simms said his first clue that something was up was when other guests and even employees began ransacking the ice machines at his Deerfield Beach motel on Wednesday.

Warned to stock up on supplies — his room has a microwave and a refrigerator — Simms discovered that all of the nearby grocery stores were already sold out of, well, everything.

“The reason we came early is my friend wanted to do some fishing in the Keys and the girls wanted to go through the shops there and sightsee,” said Simms. “Well, that was immediately off the table, and things went downhill from there.”

In the Design District, the luxurious shopping district for some of the world’s most expensive fashion brands, sandbags were piled against the doors of Dior, Burberry and Tiffany’s, while muzak echoed over an empty courtyard. In Wynwood, Miami’s arts district, Luca Gioia, 22, Ryan DeMattia, 25, and Cameron Ohls, 22, received a “private” tour of Wynwood Walls.

“We’ve been planning this for months,” said DeMattia, who flew in Wednesday with his friends for the iii Points music festival at Mana Wynwood. “They said this would be like the craziest hurricane party ever!”

Also wandering Wynwood were Skip Van Cel and Danny Giannuzi, who had come in search of a restaurant instead of the cans of Chef Boyardee Ravioli and Vienna sausages that Giannuzi, who lives nearby, had stocked for the storm. They said they hadn’t worried too much about Matthew, especially Van Cel, who has lived in Miami since 1963 and had vivid memories of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Van Cel said he was reassured by the relaxed attitude of Max Mayfield, a meteorologist with WPLG who was the voice of calm when he was director of the National Hurricane Center. “When I saw Max Mayfield wasn’t panicking, I said I’m not panicking,” he said.

But, without panicking, scores were cautious as the storm bore down on Miami. At least 600 people packed shelters in Dade, and more than 2,000 in Broward just in case.

At Booker T. Washington Senior High in Overtown, Martha Dugan said she left her 23-foot boat behind in the waters near Coconut Grove and sought shelter at the school. Dugan, 72, lives on Social Security, an income that forces her to live on her vessel. She has lost two boats already: one to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, when the boat was found in the middle of Peacock Park, and another to Katrina 11 years ago.

“My boyfriend is staying on the boat,” she said. “I’m kind of worried. But he’s a good swimmer.”

Back in Miami Beach, David Sexton wrapped up preparations at Painting with a Twist. Besides shutters, he had concrete poured at the back of his business Wednesday to prevent flooding. After a brief but heavy thunderstorm Monday night, he already had some water enter the studio.

Even though the full force of the storm wasn’t expected in Miami-Dade, Sexton said he would rather be cautious. And even if his precautions weren’t absolutely necessary Thursday, they may still come in handy: Computer models show that the storm may loop back around next week and come back at South Florida from the northeast.

“You never know,” he said.

Miami Herald staff writers Alfonso Chardy, Lance Dixon, Joey Flechas, Glenn Garvin, Douglas Hanks, Mary Ellen Klas, Jordan Levin, Carol Marbin Miller, David J. Neal, Charles Rabin, Amy Sherman and Jenny Staletovich contributed to this report.


Miami Herald staff writers Alfonso Chardy, Lance Dixon, Joey Flechas, Glenn Garvin, Douglas Hanks, Mary Ellen Klas, Jordan Levin, Carol Marbin Miller, David J. Neal, Charles Rabin, Amy Sherman and Jenny Staletovich contributed to this report.