Coastal South Carolina is set to be evacuated, anxious Florida residents raided grocery store shelves and North Carolina called for the evacuation of three barrier islands as Hurricane Matthew — the most powerful Atlantic storm in about a decade — threatened to rake a large swath of the East Coast in the coming days.
The storm roared across the Caribbean on Tuesday, slamming into the western part of Haiti. While it's too soon to know if it will make a direct hit on Florida or somewhere else along the U.S. coast, Matthew is expected to create dangerous conditions.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Tuesday she plans to issue an evacuation order Wednesday so that 1 million people can safely and comfortably leave the coast, barring a major shift in the storm's track. People will need to be 100 miles inland from the coast, and Haley said she expects the evacuation to begin at 3 p.m. EDT Wednesday.
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Asked at a news conference if the evacuation is voluntary, Haley said, "we don't do voluntary or mandatory, it is an evacuation."
A hurricane watch was in place for parts of Florida, which was already seeing rain bands from the storm.
Simone Corrado and her husband tried to buy water at a Publix in their hometown of Davie, about 20 minutes from Miami Beach, and mostly found empty shelves. They were worried the roof of their garden-style apartment would leak during heavy rain.
"I got scared because all that was left at Publix was just the pricey water," Corrado said. "They really put the fear into you here. On the television screen every few minutes is the 'beep, beep, beep' storm alert."
Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with emergency officials along the coast, starting out in the Keys and traveling north. At a news conference in Daytona Beach, he noted that the storm's predicted path can change quickly.
"We can rebuild your home, we can rebuild your business. We can't rebuild your life," Scott said.
The dangerous Category 4 storm blew ashore around dawn in a corner of Haiti where many people live along the coast in shacks of wood or simple concrete blocks. At least seven people have died from Matthew's march through the Caribbean. The storm was headed north over the Bahamas and expected to brush the Florida coast.
A tropical storm watch was issued from Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys to Deerfield Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale. A hurricane watch is in place further north.
"We are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best and not taking any chances," Scott said as he visited with emergency management officials in the Florida Keys.
The governor urged residents along the Interstate 95 corridor to start making preparations, which include having at least a three-day supply of water, food and medicine. He also asked residents to comply with any evacuation orders from local officials as the week progresses.
"Make sure you have a fully charged cellphone," Scott said. "If we lose power, you cannot charge your cellphones."
Scott noted that many people have moved to South Florida since Hurricane Wilma hit as a Category 3 storm in 2005. Matthew briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.
President Barack Obama was updated on the path of Hurricane Matthew and its potential impact in the Caribbean and the United States, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday.
Obama had been scheduled to travel to Florida on Wednesday for campaign events and a health care event. But the White House said Tuesday the trip is being postponed because of the hurricane.
Instead, Obama will travel to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Washington headquarters to meet with officials coordinating the response. FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate will brief Obama on the latest developments if scheduling allows.
Federal officials have been deployed to state emergency operations centers in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina and relief supplies have been prepositioned in the region.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency, in part to immediately help farmers clear their fields of crops already affected by heavy rain over the last two weeks. He said he doesn't want other crops ruined, so restrictions on truck weights and hours of service would be lifted under the emergency declaration to allow farmers to take their harvest to market.
At Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina, superintendent Patrick Kenney said more than 100 trucks were being taken off the island and about 45 cabins were being cleared.
Ferry operators told Kenney it will take two days to evacuate everyone, meaning the islands should be empty sometime Wednesday.