National Hurricane Center
“Right now, the storm itself is the size of Arizona,” Jim Butterworth, director of the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, told
NBC station WXIA of Atlanta.
The storm weakened slightly early Wednesday with top sustained winds of 125 mph — dropping just below the category 4 threshold of 130 mph to 140 mph that it had stuck to for several days.
States of emergencies were in effect in all of Florida and in coastal parts of Georgia and the Carolinas with Matthew expected to arrive near eastern Florida by Thursday evening.
From there, it’s expected to ride along the Georgia coast north to South Carolina on Friday and Saturday, reaching North Carolina sometime early Sunday, forecasters said.
The problem, said Ari Sarsalari, another meteorologist for The Weather Channel, is how slowly Matthew is moving — only about 8 mph.
“This is a storm that will be affecting the Eastern Seaboard for several days,” he said.
Early Wednesday, hurricane warnings were in effect for Palm Beach and Broward counties and Lake Okeechobee in Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott activated 200 members of the National Guard to support hurricane response and said 300 more would be staged across the state Wednesday. Plans were under way to close bridges on the Intracoastal Waterway along the eastern Florida coast by 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“Regardless if there is a direct hit or not, the impacts will be devastating,” Scott said. “I cannot emphasize it enough that everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit.”
In Brevard County, Port Canaveral, one of the busiest cargo and naval ports in the world, ordered a total evacuation late Tuesday afternoon for all marinas, port businesses and tenants.
The Coast Guard said Canaveral Harbor itself would be closed by Wednesday afternoon — meaning no vessels, including cruise and cargo ships, as well as recreational and commercial fishing boats — will be allowed in.
Meanwhile, worried Floridians picked the grocery store shelves clean of staples like bottled water and batteries.
Employees raced to restock shelves stripped of water, canned goods, peanut butter and bread at a Publix supermarket in West Palm Beach,
NBC station WPTV reported.
“We’re concerned about the flooding,” resident Yvette Passino said. “I don’t know if we’re going to be evacuated or not.”
In North Carolina, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington issued a mandatory campus evacuation for all students by noon Thursday as authorities began evacuating Cape Lookout National Seashore and barrier islands on the coast.
Kimberly Wood Pruitt — WCBD-TV
Mary Jane Lane, owner of the Sea and Sun Motel in Carolina Beach, N.C., packed up the first floor of her motel and planned to head west. Lane told
NBC station WRAL of Raleigh that some of her guests are refusing to leave, which means they’re on their own if there’s a mandatory evacuation.
Lane said longtime residents were comparing the storm to Hurricane Hazel, which took a very similar path in 1954, killing about 400 people in Haiti and almost 100 in the United States.
“If you remember Hazel, then you will pack up,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, had already deployed extra hands and supplies to Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, while the White House postponed plans for President Barack Obama to campaign for Hillary Clinton on Wednesday in Miami and Tampa, Fla.
Instead, Obama will head to FEMA headquarters Wednesday to track the storm and get updates on the federal emergency response.
Matthew is the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007. NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins said its path appears to be similar to that of Hurricane Floyd in 1999, which forced the evacuation of 2.6 million people across five states.
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