More than two million people in the US have been urged to evacuate their homes because Hurricane Matthew ‘is going to kill people’ as it strengthens on its way towards the East Coast.
Thousands of families have been caught in gridlock in Florida, the Carolinas and Georgia after fleeing their homes ahead of the storm – which is expected to strike Miami early on Friday morning with winds of up to 145mph.
Governor Rick Scott of Florida, reiterating a call for people to evacuate on Thursday morning said there is no reason not to leave the state.
‘Do not surf. Do not go on the beach. This will kill you,’ he said.
The powerful Category Four hurricane, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, has already killed at least people in Haiti and four in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.At its height, the hurricane was a Category Five with wind speeds of more than 157 mph.
The National Weather Service has advised that ‘loss of life’ and ‘immense human suffering’ is possible for those who don’t take precautions. It could also potentially leave approximately seven million people without power.
President Barack Obama warned: ‘I want to emphasize to the public – this is a serious storm. If there is an evacuation order in your community, you need to take it seriously.’
‘Just remember that you can always rebuild,’ he added. ‘You can always repair property. You cannot restore a life if it is lost and we want to make sure that we minimize any possible loss of life or risk to people in these areas.
The storm gained new muscle over the Bahamas on Thursday morning as it battered the island. The National Hurricane Center warned at 5am that it was about 60 miles south-southeast of Nassau, the capital, which is located on New Providence – home to about 70 per cent of the country’s 250,000 people.
Forecasters said the hurricane is likely to hit Florida at around 2am on Friday before heading northwards past Orlando, Jacksonville and up to Charleston.
Some models have suggested that the storm may go out to sea and then do a U-turn and head back to Florida for a devastating double hit.
Gov Scott, warned his state that they needed to ‘prepare for a direct hit’ as he declared a state of emergency.
‘That means people have less than 24 hours to prepare, evacuate and shelter. Having a plan in place could mean the difference between life and death.’
He added that all residents on Florida’s Atlantic coast should expect to lose power, ‘possibly for a long period of time.’
‘We don’t know exactly where this storm’s going. Don’t trust this track.’
He warned of heavy rain, strong rip currents, beach erosion and storm surge.
‘Unfortunately this is going to kill people,’ he reiterated.
‘Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate. Be prepared. Don’t take a chance.’
As well as the potential loss of life, researchers at the University of Michigan, Ohio State and Texas A&M have warned Matthew could knock out power for approximately seven million people.
The National Weather Service also warned that the hurricane could cause the ‘complete destruction of mobile homes’ adding that certain areas could be rendered ‘uninhabitable for weeks of months’.
Some 3,000 people have already checked into shelters across the state ahead of Matthew’s approach.
In preparation, residents flocked to hardware stores, grocery stores and gas stations, stripping them of vital supplies.
One Florida, resident Randy Jordan of Juniper, told WPEC people were shoving each other as they raced to buy the supplies they needed at the local Home Depot.
‘The vibe on the street this morning is pre-panic,’ Jordan said. ‘By tomorrow, it should just be a brawl.’
Evacuations began Wednesday and at 3pm, Brevard County commissioners ordered one of the Florida’s first evacuations for residents of Merritt Island and other barrier islands.
Martin County has also ordered for homes along the Barrier Islands and Sewall’s Point, as well as for residents living in low-lying areas or manufactures homes.
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.’
Near Miami Beach, The Home Depot in Davie briefly ran out of propane for gas barbecues and the supply of batteries was dwindling.
People bought plywood to cover windows, tarps to put over outdoor furniture and coolers for food storage.
Anesthesiologist Darby Lipka lugged a 20-pound propane tank across the parking lot, saying he had already purchased food and water. He installed hurricane windows years ago so he wouldn’t need to erect shutters
‘I am just trying to be prepared,’ he said.
As residents in the Southeast prepared to leave their homes behind, many found that trying to get out of town was difficult due to the sheer numbers of people leaving at the same time.
Hundreds of thousands were stuck in traffic on highways due to evacuation orders being issued by government officials.
‘It was bumper to bumper and fairly slow for about 30 to 40 miles on either side of I-95,’ Sarah Boessenecker told NBC News.
‘However, people were very friendly and easygoing — no honking or impatience’.
‘People seemed to know the drill and understand that traffic was going to be bad and had accepted it.’
She and her husband, Robert were trying to make the trip from Charleston, South Carolina to Atlanta, where friends had offered to host them.
For Lydia Dalton, she said it took her family a ‘long time to get out of Charleston’ on Interstate 26.
‘We thought we were leaving way ahead of everyone else,’ Dalton said.
Residents in Charleston and Beaufort counties began their evacuations at noon on Wednesday.
The National Guard was mobilized Wednesday and more than 300 buses had been set aside to transport families fleeing their homes to safety ahead of the storm, and lane reversals leading out of Charleston began at 3pm.
Traffic was backed up for miles as people fled Charleston on Interstate 26, with gasoline a precious commodity with at least half a dozen stations along the coast out of fuel.
Not everyone is heeding the warning to leave, however.
‘We’re staying because we have to board the house up,’ said Buff Schwab, who stocked up on supplies yesterday.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency in 13 coastal counties yesterday because of Hurricane Matthew.
The White House said President Barack Obama canceled a campaign and health care events in Florida on Wednesday and would instead visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an update.
Meanwhile airlines and cruise lines prepared for Matthew by cancelling thousands of flights and rerouting cruise stops.
US airliners cancelled more than 1,500 flights on Wednesday and a further 1,070 on Thursday. Fort Lauderdale airport plans to close at 10.30am today, while Miami and Orlando airports both said they would continue monitoring the storm.
American Airlines is expected to see the most cancellations, as the company has large operations in Miami and Charlotte. American and most other airlines are letting passengers change travel plans without penalty if their trip is affected.
Several ports in Miami closed Wednesday and Thursday, with ships already at sea being rerouted to western Caribbean routes. The Carnival Sensation, which was set to sail from Miami Thursday will instead sail on Friday, assuming PortMiami reopens, conditions permitting.
Several cruise ships are being rerouted from their regularly scheduled Caribbean and Bahamas ports to Key West. Key West is about 40 miles south of the portion of the Florida not currently under a tropical storm warning.
As Hurricane Matthew approached the Bahamas, officials say nine Royal Bahamas Defence Force vessels have moored at Truman Harbor in Key West.
Naval Air Station Key West spokeswoman Trice Denny says a University of Miami Rosentiel School research called the Whalton Smith is expected to arrive in port in Key West on Wednesday.
Officials are also expecting the USNS Spearhead on Saturday, a 337-foot-long joint (Navy/Army) high-speed catamaran vessel, to be positioned in Key West for possible aid missions.
The Department of State had also authorized family members of US government employees to depart the Bahamas, and issued a travel warning for the area.
Dangerous high winds caused destruction as they whipped through Haiti, southern Cuba and the Dominican Republic yesterday, with flooding and landslides destroying homes, businesses and bringing down electricity lines.
Haiti’s interior ministry said that 65 people had died on the island, many killed by falling trees, flying debris and swollen rivers. The number includes a group of 24 people killed in the coastal town of Roche-a-Bateau.
‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’ said the town’s delegate Louis Paul Raphael.
Four people have also died in the the neighboring Dominican Republic.
In Cuba, residents were seen walking through the rubble strewn streets, and digging through the remains of broken buildings trying to recover their belongings.
A United Nations official said Hurricane Matthew has caused the biggest humanitarian crisis in Haiti since the devastating earthquake of 2010.
Strong winds and heavy rain hit Haiti on Thursday, which revised its death toll to 65, including a 26-year-old man who drowned trying to rescue a child who fell into flood waters. The child was saved, authorities said. One woman was killed by a falling electrical pole.
More than 430,000 were evacuated from the island, the poorest region in the Western Hemisphere, ahead of the hurricane.
‘You could see a death toll in the thousands,’ Colorado State University meteorologist Phil Klotzbach had warned as life-threatening 145mph winds and heavy rain battered the island.
Deputy Special Representative for Haiti Mourad Wahba says in a statement that many people have been forced from their homes and communications systems have been knocked out in the country’s hard-hit southwestern peninsula. He said at least 10,000 people are in shelters.