Though Hurricane Matthew will make landfall hundreds of miles away from the state, many Mainers with relatives in the Southeast will watch closely Friday morning as the Category 4 storm pounds the coast of Florida before moving north into Georgia and South Carolina.

Several volunteers with the Maine chapter of the American Red Cross traveled to Florida and South Carolina this week to assist storm victims, while former Maine residents who live in the path of Matthew boarded up their homes and braced for the onslaught of devastating winds that forecasters are predicting.

The National Weather Service in Gray is predicting that the state will not be affected by Matthew. “It’s pretty much going to stay to the south of us,” meteorologist Mike Sempa said.

Former Maine resident Tracey Stevens and her husband moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida, in June 2015. Stevens served for three years as Freeport’s town clerk and before that as Fairfield’s town clerk. The couple has a daughter who lives with them.

Stevens and her husband installed steel shutters on their windows this week to protect them from flying debris. Their home is made of concrete block, a type of construction that Stevens said should withstand the 140 mph sustained winds forecasters are predicting.

“I’ve been in blizzards before, but nothing like this,” Stevens said Thursday. “We’ve been hearing that this will be the worst storm Florida has seen in many years.”

Brian Provencher was born and raised in Biddeford before moving to Florida in 2001 to take a job as a sales support manager for a medical supply company. Provencher, his wife, Jeannette, and their 13-year-old daughter now live in DeLand, Florida – about 23 miles west of Daytona Beach.

“We’re hunkered down,” Provencher said Thursday. He plans to ride out the hurricane in his second-floor condominium.

Provencher, who lived through three hurricanes in 2004, said he bought drinking water and provisions earlier in the week, but says he expects to lose power. His home was designed to withstand 160 mph winds.

“People are worried. When it makes landfall, they are saying this could be the most destructive storm Florida has ever seen,” he said. “I’m kind of nervous.”

Provencher visits his parents and sister, who live in Maine, two or three times a year. He misses Maine, but said he loves his job and doesn’t plan on fleeing the state anytime soon.

South Portland resident Elizabeth Benz said her brother, Richard D. Chewning II, and his wife, Stephanie, had to evacuate their wood frame home on Jekyll Island, Georgia, on Thursday along with a number of animals he is responsible for caring for at the 4-H Tidelands Nature Center. Chewning serves as the director of the nature center.

Benz said she was worried about her brother until she learned that he had relocated to an inland area where he should be safe.

“I’m not worried about his safety at all now that he is out of there. I just hope that he will have a home to return to,” she said.

Justin Burkhardt, spokesman for the American Red Cross Chapter in Maine, said seven Maine volunteers are heading south to help hurricane victims.

Among them was Darlene Helms of Hampden, who arrived Thursday. Helms helped set up a shelter at an elementary school in Melbourne, where she plans to spend at least one night.

Helms said the Manatee Elementary School is serving as a temporary shelter for nearly 500 people. She will distribute relief supplies and try to keep people calm when the winds start to howl and shake the school building.

“I’ve been to wildfires and floods, but never been in a hurricane. I think we are going to get slammed,” Helms said.

Helms urged Mainers who are concerned about a loved one to log onto the American Red Cross’ Safe and Well website at safeandwell.communityos.org. Once there, persons can register to let relatives know that they are OK or search for loved ones.

Spokesmen for Central Maine Power Company and Emera Maine say they will continue to monitor the storm, but are not expecting Matthew to affect Maine. Their crews will remain on standby in the event they are called upon to assist other states.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]


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