MIAMI — Hurricane Matthew is pummeling the Bahamas right now, and its dangerous winds have picked up speed as the storm continues north. Its next stop is most likely the United States.
Here’s what you need to know now about the powerful storm that forecasters say is gaining strength:
The storm has already killed at least 113 people in three Caribbean countries. The overwhelming majority, 108 people, died in Haiti, said Civil Protection Service spokesman Joseph Edgard Celestin.
Hurricane Matthew remains a Category 4 storm with winds of 140 mph, according to the latest National Hurricane Center advisory. As of 2 p.m. ET, Matthew was located about 125 miles east-southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida, and is expected to make a northwest turn toward the peninsula sometime Thursday night or early Friday.
Daytona Beach, Florida, Mayor Derrick Henry told CNN he fears residents might be emboldened by the fact that his city hasn’t seen a direct hit from a hurricane in four decades. “We’re not immune. … Get out. That is our message and that is our hope. Worry about your possessions later. Take care of your life now. You only have one life,” he said. St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver issued a similar warning.
Authorities urged more than 2 million people to leave their homes in coastal Florida, Georgia and South Carolina as the storm neared — the largest mandatory evacuations in the United States since Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012.
Based on the latest projections, Matthew could make landfall in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane. It could also skirt the coast as it continues north. While Matthew’s outer bands were already starting to hit Miami-Dade County by mid-morning, Mayor Carlos Jimenez said there’s a bit of good news: “The probability of sustained hurricane winds has gone down 13%.” The latest advisory says hurricane-force winds will extend 60 miles from Matthew’s eye, while tropical storm force winds will impact areas 160 miles from the eye.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott offered a dire warning Thursday morning for people living in evacuation zones: “This is serious. … If you need to evacuate and you haven’t, evacuate. This storm will kill you. Time is running out. We don’t have that much time left.”
Florida braces for direct hit
Gov. Scott warned 1.5 million residents not to take evacuation orders lightly, telling Floridians on the state’s east coast the question is not whether they will lose power, but for how long.
“There is no reason not to evacuate,” he said. “No one should be taking any chances.”
A direct hit by Matthew, he said, could lead to “massive destruction” on a level unseen since Hurricane Andrew devastated the Miami area in 1992. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations in his state stretch from the Miami area all the way north to the Florida-Georgia border.
People who stayed behind stocked up on supplies and boarded up windows. Throughout Thursday, reports began flowing in of county governments, schools and amusement parks across the state closing. Many residents found long gas lines Wednesday. But so far, the state isn’t running short on supplies, Scott said.
Airline passengers were urged to call before leaving for the airport. As of mid-morning, Florida airports had canceled almost 1,400 flights, most of them at Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando. Fort Lauderdale has closed it airport, while Orlando is slated to close at 8 p.m., airport officials said.
Palm Beach residents cleared many grocery store shelves ahead of the storm. Yet despite all the warnings, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said not everyone is listening, even with mandatory evacuation orders in place.
“More people are staying than leaving. It’s very concerning. When the winds really pick up, we will not be sending people out,” she said.
Muoio added, “Here’s the problem: You don’t evacuate. It gets bad. Now you decide, ‘Now I want to evacuate.’ It’s too late. You dial 911. You want to get rescued. We can’t come to you. It’s too dangerous. … You’re actually putting responders at risk to save you in the worst part of the storm.”
Despite the Daytona Beach mayor urging residents not to underestimate the storm, CNN found Daniel Myara, who has lived in the city for 25 years, barricading his business, Cruisin Café, with plywood and screws on Thursday. He’s not going anywhere. In fact, a sign outside declares his bar open: “Honk for hurricane party inside.”
He’s been working for three days and in that time has seen the price for a sheet of plywood jump from $15 to $40, he said.
“One thing I forgot to do, I should have bought stock in Lowe’s and Home Depot. That would have been nice,” he said.
Further north, in Jacksonville, there were like-minded souls. Esabelle Ramsey, 55, says her brother, Lester, lives in the evacuation zone and refuses to leave.
“I keep telling him to, but he won’t listen, so I just brought him some water and food and stuff. I wish he would listen to me,” she said.
Nearby, Alice Saulsby, 75, a resident of the area since 1973, says she and her husband are on a fixed income and evacuating would be too costly, so they’ve stocked up on supplies and filled up a bathtub with water.
“Everything is ultimately in God’s hands,” Saulsby said.
Mandatory evacuations in South Carolina
Cars packed highways in South Carolina, where officials gave mandatory evacuation orders for several counties.
So far, about 250,000 people have left the area. And as many as 200,000 people will leave Thursday, said Kim Stenson, the director of South Carolina Emergency Management.
Tempers apparently flared during the slow traffic. A man got out of his truck at a point where vehicles were being redirected, removed a traffic cone and sped away. Police chased the man until he stopped on a dead-end road. The man fired at deputies and police officers, who shot back and wounded him, Berkeley County Chief Deputy Mike Cochran told CNN. The man was hospitalized, but his condition is unknown.
The South Carolina Department of Transportation changed the directions of eastbound traffic lanes to accommodate the exodus of people leaving coastal cities like Charleston.
As thousands fled inland, some people said they were staying put. Charleston residents boarded up businesses and prepared to hunker down.
Cheryl Quinn said she and her husband were fine a year ago when Charleston endured heavy rain after a brush with a big storm.
“It was kind of a party down here. I hate to say that,” she said, but she’s reserved a hotel room, just in case.
North Carolina playing it by ear
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for more than half the state’s 100 counties. So far, though, the governor has not urged residents to evacuate.
“We’re just going to have to play it by ear and have our resources ready,” the governor said.
Officials are still concerned areas in eastern North Carolina that were recently flooded will see drenching rains from Matthew.
Georgia governor: ‘Remain calm, be prepared’
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency in 30 counties on or near the Atlantic Coast and ordered evacuations for several counties, all on the coast, east of Interstate 95.
Of special concern is Tybee Island, a low-lying island east of Savannah, which is also under mandatory evacuation orders.
“Remain calm, be prepared and make informed, responsible decisions,” Deal said.
In Savannah, Mayor Eddie DeLoach warned those who stay that they’d be on their own.
“Hurricane Matthew is a storm not to be messed with. If you decide to ride it out, do not expect us to be there to help you. We will not risk the lives of our emergency responders to save those who refused to heed this evacuation call,” he said in a statement.
CNN affiliate WSB reported 20-mile long traffic backups on I-75 northbound, south of metro Atlanta, as people from coastal areas sought to flee the storm.
CNN’s Steve Almasy, Holly Yan, Stephanie Elam, Rolando Zenteno, Keith Allen, Shawn Nottingham, Alexander Leininger, Tony Marco, Deborah Bloom, Devon M. Sayers, Nick Valencia, Sara Sidner, Jason Morris and Rosa Flores contributed to this report.