(CN) – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Tuesday ordered the mandatory evacuation of several coastal communities and canceled school in over half the state before declaring a state of emergency for Hurricane Matthew.
Haley said the medical evacuations are already under way, and general evacuations were set to start at 3 p.m. Schools and government offices in the Low Country, including those in Charleston and Beaufort, are closed.
Lane reversals on major highways leading away from the coast have begun.
“If you can leave early, do that. The goal is to not leave all at once,” Haley said during a 3 p.m. news confrence.
An estimated 1.1 million people may have to be evacuated.
The governor said the goal is to have everyone within 100 miles of the coast gone. She said storm surges of 5 to 7 feet are possible, and winds of 100 miles an hour are expected.
Hurricane Matthew, a strong and potentially catastrophic storm, roared across Haiti and Jamaica Tuesday, its projected path causing millions of residents in the Southeastern United States to begin preparing for the worst.
The governors of Florida and North Carolina declared states of emergency, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott told Sunshine State residents if they plan to evacuate, they should do so today.
“We expect direct impacts from Matthew up the entire length of Florida’s east coast, from Miami all the way to Jacksonville, he said.
A hurricane watch has been declared for Florida and the Carolinas.
The great unknown Tuesday afternoon was just how hard the storm hit Haiti. Matthew reached the largely rural and impoverished island nation just before dawn, lashing it with 140 per hour sustained winds, torrential rains and dangerous ocean conditions.
The storm came ashore on Haiti’s southern peninsula, where most people live in homes made of wood or concrete blocks.
While there are reports that some have died as a result of the storm, Haitian officials said Monday they have no idea of the magnitude of the losses.
“It’s much too early to know how bad things are,” said Alta Jean-Baptiste, director of the country’s Civil Protection Agency.
Former Courthouse News reporter Ashley Harrell is in the Dominican Republic, and said, via email this morning, that the country got some rain Monday, “but Haiti is taking the brunt of the storm, from what I hear.”
Although the two countries share the same large Caribbean island, they are separated by mountains and a history that left the Haitian side of the island poor, but the Dominican Republic blessed with decent infrastructure and more modern buildings.
Gov. Scott declared a state of emergency in every Florida county late Monday after the National Hurricane Center reported that Matthew had taken a turn to the west, potentially bringing it directly over the east coast of Florida.
Previously, the hurricane had been expected to come close to the U.S. East Coast, but to remain offshore.
Emerging from the City of Hialeah Emergency Operations Center, Scott said, “If Hurricane Matthew directly impacts Florida, there could be massive destruction,, which we haven’t seen since Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami-Dade County in 1992.”
The governor said 200 members of the National Guard have already been activated and another 6,000 are standing by, ready to be deployed if needed. He also said the state is already doing all it can to ensure power outages are dealt with promptly and that there are no fuel shortages on the along the state’s heavily populated coast.
“On the Florida Turnpike, we also have extra fuel trucks on standby to get anywhere in our state. Again, while we are preparing for the worst, we are hoping for the best and will not take any chances with a storm of this magnitude,” Scott said.
He said the hurricane could begin impacting South Florida as early as Wednesday and that because it is a slow moving storm, it could continue to lash parts of the state through Saturday.
A number of cruise lines have already begun moving their ships from the Port of Jacksonville, and the U.S. Coast Guard has issued an advisory to boaters throughout Florida to start preparing for the rough seas and windy days ahead.
Meanwhile, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for central and eastern parts of the state, taking many of the same states.
Of course, for all the preparations, the path a hurricane ultimately follows is something of a wild card, and a weak front currently moving east from the middle of the country could still steer Matthew further out to sea.
Forecasters are watching to see which of two possible scenarios develops,
If the front collapses or stalls, Matthew will barrel up the coast and could track nearly from Florida to Maine, weakening as it goes, but causing major headaches along the way.
The better scenario is that the front reaches Matthew and the storm becomes a near miss meaning plenty of wind and rain in places like coastal North Carolina, but far fewer problems as the brunt of the storm remains out at sea.
At a minimum, Matthew will make for “very dangerous beach and boating conditions” along much of the U.S. east coast into next week, the National Hurricane Center said.
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