MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla. — Hurricane Matthew marched toward Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, and nearly 2 million people along the coast were urged to evacuate their homes, a mass exodus ahead of a major storm packing power the U.S. hasn’t seen in more than a decade, the AP reported.
Matthew was a dangerous and life-threatening Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) as it pounded the central Bahamas early Thursday Oct. 6. Forecasters said it’s expected to strengthen over the coming day or so into an even more potent Category 4 hurricanes as it approaches Florida’s Atlantic coast. At least 16 deaths in the Caribbean have been blamed on the storm, with heavy damage reported in Haiti.
The storm was forecast to scrape much of the Florida coast and any slight deviation could mean landfall or it heading farther out to sea. Either way, it was going to be close enough to wreak havoc along the lower part of the East Coast, and many people weren’t taking any chances.
Florida urged or ordered about 1.5 million to leave the coast, said Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott. Georgia had around 50,000 people told to go.
In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley reversed the lanes of Interstate 26 so that all lanes of traffic were headed west and out of Charleston. It was the first time the lanes had been reversed. Plans to reverse the lanes were put in place after hours-long traffic jams during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
The governor planned to call for more evacuations on Thursday, which would bring the total to about 500,000 people in the state.
The last Category 3 storm or higher to hit the United States was Wilma in October 2005. It made landfall with 120 mph (190 kph) winds in southwest Florida, killing five people as it pushed through the Everglades and into the Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach area. It caused an estimated $21 billion in damage and left thousands of residents without power for more than a week. It concluded a two-year span when a record eight hurricanes hit the state.
As of 2 a.m. Thursday, Matthew was centered about 295 miles (480 kilometers) southeast of West Palm Beach and moving northwest at 10 mph (17 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center . Hurricane-force winds extended 45 miles (72 kilometers) from the center, it said, adding Matthew is forecast to strengthen over the next day or so and become a Category 4 hurricane while approaching Florida’s Atlantic coast.
“When a hurricane is forecast to take a track roughly parallel to a coastline, as Matthew is forecast to do from Florida through South Carolina, it becomes very difficult to specify impacts at any one location,” said National Hurricane Center forecaster Lixion Avila.
Florida can expect as much as 10 inches of rain in some isolated areas.
President Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters Wednesday to be briefed on preparations. FEMA has deployed personnel to emergency operation centers in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
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