Wind speeds are hitting up to 120 m.p.h., down from 130 m.p.h.+ READ ARTICLE
Officials encouraged millions of Americans to evacuate their homes Thursday as Hurricane Matthew approached the Southeast Atlantic coast after killing more than 280 people across the Caribbean.
“This storm’s a monster,” Gov. Rick Scott said at a press conference Thursday evening. “I’m going to pray for everybody’s safety.”
The storm was downgraded from to Category 3 early Friday morning, with wind speeds hitting up to 120 m.p.h. (195 km/h), down from the previous Category 4 levels of 130 m.p.h. (209 km/h). President Obama declared a state of emergency in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia on Thursday evening.
As of the early hours of Friday morning, the storm had yet to make landfall. However, Matthew’s related storm surge could raise sea levels as much as nine feet in some coastal communities ahead of making landfall, in addition to inundating the region with rain.
“This storm will kill you,” Scott said at a press conference earlier. “These are all projections. It could be much worse. Time is running out.”
Officials warned Wednesday that the storm posed an imminent threat to those in its path in Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. In total, more than 2 million people living there have been told to evacuate. “If there is an evacuation order in your community, you need to take it seriously,” President Obama said after a briefing on the storm. “You can always rebuild, you can always repair property; you cannot restore a life if it is lost.”
The president also spoke by telephone with Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Pat McCory of North Carolina and Rick Scott of Florida, as their states were bracing for the storm.
The storm killed more than 280 people as it tore through Haiti. Four fatalities were reported in the Dominican Republic, and one each in Colombia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, according to the Associated Press. More remain injured and missing, and the death toll is likely to rise as emergency responders travel to remote areas in Haiti.
In the U.S., state officials in the affected region took precautions Wednesday to encourage residents to leave and prepare a strong disaster response. State officials in South Carolina and Florida activated the National Guard to assist alongside other disaster response crews in both preparation and response to the storm. Tolls were suspended on state roads to encourage residents to flee and hundreds of flights were cancelled.
Evacuating residents in some areas found long lines for gas and crippling traffic as millions left their homes. Some fled to inland shelters in their communities designated as as safe by officials while others left town altogether. Those who stayed behind faced empty grocery store shelves and a warning from local leaders that saving them may not be possible. “We need to evacuate inland within the county,” said Bill Johnson, director of Palm Beach County emergency management, according to a Sun Sentinel report. “We run from the surge. We hide from the wind.”
Currently just 80 miles (125 km) southeast of Cape Canaveral, Matthew is moving northwest at 14 m.p.h. (22 km/h) towards Florida’s east coast, according to the latest information from the Hurricane Center.