Hurricane Matthew continued to strengthen this morning as it inched toward the United States, where more than a million people were evacuating South Atlantic coastal communities.
People were fleeing Florida, Georgia and South Carolina after Matthew, which had already swept through Haiti and brushed Cuba, began to pummel the Bahamas.
Tropical storm conditions were expected in Florida as early as this morning before the slow-moving Matthew takes a turn to the north-northwest and approaches the east coast of the state's peninsula by Friday, the National Hurricane Center said.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott pleaded with residents to follow evacuation orders, according to NBC News.
"Do not surf. Do not go on the beach. This will kill you," he said at a press conference today. "There is no reason not to leave."
Scott activated 2,500 members of the National Guard and warned Floridians that projected winds of 100 to 150 mph will destroy houses and "millions will lose power, possibly for a long period of time.”
The storm is expected to produce a life-threatening storm surge, damaging winds and flooding rainfall, according to The Weather Channel.
Matthew was expected to strike Florida’s peninsula and southeastern Georgia late today and Friday, and possibly linger into Saturday in northeastern Florida. The eastern Carolinas were expected to see effects from Matthew later Friday to Saturday, and possibly into Sunday.
If the peak surge coincides with high tide, water levels could reach the following levels, according to the National Hurricane Center:
- Sebastian Inlet, Florida, to the Savannah River, Georgia: 6 to 9 feet above ground level
- Deerfield Beach, Florida, to the Sebastian Inlet, Florida: 3 to 5 feet above ground level
- Savannah River, Georgia, to South Santee River, South Carolina: 3 to 5 feet above ground level
- Virginia Key, Florida, to Deerfield Beach, Florida: 1 to 2 feet above ground level
Hurricane-force winds — 74-plus mph — are likely along Florida's east coast, starting tonight, and potentially north of there in coastal parts of Georgia and the Carolinas Friday into Saturday.
The greatest chance of destructive hurricane-force winds is along Florida's east coast. Damaging winds are likely to occur no matter whether the center of Matthew makes landfall or stays just offshore. The strength of the winds will depend on how close the eyewall passes to the coast.
Matthew is forecast to be a major hurricane (Category 3 or stronger) when it moves near Florida's east coast, so extreme damage from winds of more than 100 mph is very possible.
The National Weather Service said in a local statement that widespread extensive to devastating wind effects will be felt along the coast.
The heaviest rainfall totals, possibly ranging from 5 to 12 inches, are likely to be confined to the immediate coast, from Florida to eastern North Carolina. There is a potential for even heavier rainfall if Matthew makes landfall.
Though it was once predicted to head for the Northeast, meteorologists now expect Matthew to veer away from the coastal Carolinas on Sunday.