Hurricane Matthew, the strongest storm to hit the Caribbean in almost a decade, is strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane Thursday, with sustained winds ranging from 130 mph to 156 mph. It is forecast to dump 7 to 10 inches of rain, and produce 9-foot storm surges as it brush the Florida coast Thursday night.
With 12 million Americans across the Southeast under a hurricane warning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) has issued stern warnings to those in the storm's path to evacuate or prepare for intense rain and flooding unlike any the state has seen in 11 years, since hurricane Andrew.
"If you're reluctant to evacuate, just think about all the people who have been killed," Governor Scott said at a news conference on Thursday, referring to the 35 people confirmed dead in Haiti. "Time is running out. This is clearly either going to have a direct hit or come right along the coast and we're going to have hurricane-force winds."
Florida's evacuation warning was aimed particularly at residents of Broward and Palm Beach, those living on the coast or in low-lying areas, and all mobile home residents in South Florida. Shelters have opened in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. Federal emergency response teams are also working to stockpile supplies across the southeastern US.
Those who have not evacuated have crowded grocery stores and gas stations, trying to stock up on supplies in case power goes out and stores remain closed for the next few days. Additionally, the state encouraged businesses to send employees home early prepare for the approaching storm.
“We need to prepare for the possibility of hurricane-force winds,” Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said on Wednesday, according to The Miami Herald. “We expect the worst of the weather will begin in the morning.”
Schools in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties have closed for Thursday and Friday, as have several universities. Airports including Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Airport have closed, and hundreds of flights into and out of Florida over the past day have been canceled.
Many lifelong residents of Florida are not concerned about hurricane Matthew, having weathered many storms before. But the last decade has been uncharacteristically storm-free, which officials fear may have lulled people into a false sense of security.
“It’s incredibly important that residents continue to take this very seriously for you and family,” Broward County Mayor Martin David Kiar told the Miami Herald. “We haven’t had one of these storms in 11 years and this storm is going to go right up the east coast of Florida.”
Material from Reuters contributed to this report.