FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP/WAVY) — People along the East Coast entered better-safe-than-sorry mode Tuesday, flocking to hardware stores, grocery aisles and gas stations as Hurricane Matthew marched toward Florida, threatening to become the first hurricane to hit the state’s Atlantic coast in over a decade.
The storm was on track to rake the Southeastern coast and trek north. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she planned to issue an evacuation order Wednesday so that 1 million people can safely leave the coast. Haley said state officials would reverse lanes on major evacuation routes. It would be the first major evacuation since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, when the governor at the time didn’t reverse the lanes and Interstate 26 became a parking lot. A two-hour drive from Charleston to Columbia turned into 24-hour nightmare.
Matthew, a Category 4 storm packing winds of 145 mph, pummeled parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday and is expected to head north over Cuba and the Bahamas before nearing the Florida coast by Thursday. At least seven people in the Caribbean have died.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a hurricane watch for a 230-mile stretch from Deerfield Beach near Fort Lauderdale to the Daytona Beach area, meaning hurricane force winds of 74 mph or higher could occur within two days. A tropical storm watch was issued from the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys to Deerfield.
The White House said federal officials were deployed to state emergency operations centers in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, where a state of emergency was declared a day earlier.
In South Florida, lines at grocery stores were heavier than usual and some essentials were in short supply. When Simone Corrado and her husband tried to buy water at their Publix in Davie near Fort Lauderdale, they mostly found empty shelves. There were a few bottles of high-end water brands, but there was so much empty shelf space that Corrado lay down and fully stretched out on the bottom shelf.
“I got scared because all that was left at Publix was just the pricey water,” said Corrado, who lived through 1992’s catastrophic Hurricane Andrew, which practically leveled the nearby city of Homestead. “They really put the fear into you here. On the television screen every few minutes is the ‘beep, beep, beep’ storm alert.”
Gov. Rick Scott, speaking in the Daytona area, warned residents they must be prepared to take a direct hit and evacuation orders could be issued as early as Tuesday. Scott said his biggest worry is that residents won’t take seriously the threat from Matthew, especially since so many newer residents have never lived through a hurricane.
“Don’t take a chance. Leave before it’s too late,” he said. “We have to be prepared to be hit by a catastrophic hurricane.”
Hurricane Hermine became the first to strike Florida since Wilma in 2005 when it hit the eastern Panhandle on Sept. 2 as a Category 1 storm, causing one death, storm surge damage to beachfront homes and downed trees and powerlines. That 11-year lull between storms hitting Florida was the longest on record.
The last storm to hit the Atlantic side of Florida was Hurricane Katrina, which struck in 2005 on its way to devastating the Gulf coast.
WAVY meteorologist Jeremy Wheeler reports that Matthew could move into the Bahamas Thursday morning as a category 3 or 4 hurricane. The storm could then move inland Friday morning, and make landfall in Florida.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared a State of Emergency for every county in the state ahead of the storm’s arrival.
If Matthew does not make landfall in Florida, it could stay just off shore and move north-northeast along the east coast of the United States. Around 5 a.m. Sunday, the storm could be directly over Hatteras as a category 2 hurricane.
More of the forecast models are starting to take Matthew further inland than previously expected. The GFS (American) and European models are now more in agreement through Friday evening, with a track that takes Matthew over northeast North Carolina.
Despite the relative uncertainty, residents are still being urged to prepare for Matthew. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday declared a state of emergency for 66 counties in the state, in order to help farmers harvest their crops.
The Red Cross released a list that residents in North Carolina can use to prepare for Hurricane Matthew’s possible arrival. Jeremy says residents should begin putting together hurricane kits now, and prepare for possible evacuations.
Matthew could bring possible life-threatening storm surge and high surf to northeast North Carolina. The weather service says breaches in dunes on the Outer Banks could cause “significant and lasting damage to Highway 12.” Damaging winds from the storm could also result in widespread power outages.
Matthew could be bringing heavy rains, flooding and possible tornadoes to the region, according to the National Weather Service.
As of 11 p.m. EDT (1500 GMT), the National Weather Service reports the storm has max sustained winds of 130 mph and was moving North at 8 mph.
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