MIAMI (AP) — Florida was urged Thursday by a member of the U.S. Senate to move or at least postpone the football game it is scheduled to host this weekend against LSU, as powerful Hurricane Matthew bore down on the state with threats of extremely severe weather conditions.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana — a state pummeled by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 — wrote an open letter to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, urging him to intervene in hopes that the Florida-LSU game would be either moved or rescheduled.
The 18th-ranked Gators are scheduled to host LSU on Saturday night.
“I can assure you that moving a football game to another location to ensure the safety and well-being of several thousand people will be the easiest decision you will make today,” Vitter told Scott in the letter.
Florida was expected to update the game’s status later Thursday.
A decision was also likely Thursday regarding the status of Saturday night’s Georgia at South Carolina game. Also, and for now, the game sending No. 23 Florida State to No. 10 Miami is still on as scheduled for Saturday night — though officials from both schools say they are continuing to monitor developments and are discussing contingency plans.
Matthew was expected to cause widespread damage on Florida’s Atlantic coast, and Florida Atlantic — in Boca Raton, an area expected to feel some of the biggest brunt of the storm when it comes ashore in the U.S. — decided to move its football game against Charlotte from Saturday to Sunday.
FAU made the announcement Thursday morning and cautioned that Sunday’s reschedule date is tentative. Further assessments will be made once the storm clears South Florida, likely sometime on Friday.
Matthew was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane late Thursday morning, with top sustained winds of 140 mph. The storm was blamed for more than 100 deaths in Haiti alone, and officials in Florida urged residents to prepare for what could be widespread and massive damage.
The Florida Panthers, who play home games in Sunrise — directly in the storm’s predicted path — were able to practice Thursday morning, and coach Gerard Gallant said he and his wife would ride the storm out in their condo near Fort Lauderdale.
“Lots of peanut butter, jam, lots of bread,” Gallant said, listing off some of the provisions that he stocked up on for the storm, which he said was bigger than any other he has dealt with previously. “Hopefully it’s not an issue.”
On the southwest side of the state, Florida Gulf Coast was told by state officials late Wednesday night to turn its basketball arena into a shelter for those who need safe haven from the storm.
FGCU, in Fort Myers, was expected to get the brunt of Matthew’s devastating wind and rain. Classes were canceled there Thursday and Friday out of caution. FGCU’s gym was put into shelter duty because state officials said many residents from the Atlantic side of the state were evacuating west, and that the vast majority of hotels on that side of the state were filled to capacity.
FGCU’s men’s basketball team plans to practice elsewhere Saturday. Its women’s basketball team took an unplanned day off Friday, with hopes of practicing at a nearby high school this weekend.
FAU’s volleyball team has been practicing at FGCU, and the FAU football team plans to ride the storm out in Tampa until it’s safe to return to its home in Boca Raton — where hurricane-force winds and as much as 10 inches of rain were forecast.
“Supporting our community, state and region is the current focus of FAU Athletics,” FAU athletic director Pat Chun said.
In other cancellations and postponements announced Thursday:
— The Tampa Bay at Florida NHL preseason game, which was scheduled for Thursday and postponed earlier this week, will not be made up. “If you’ve got to cancel a game, you’ve got to cancel a game,” Gallant said.
— Friday’s East Coast Hockey League preseason game in Estero between the Orlando Solar Bears and Florida Everblades has been canceled.