Florida Governor Rick Scott sounded the alarm on the powerful Hurricane Matthew on Wednesday, saying no matter what path the storm takes now, “the effects will be devastating.“
At least 11 deaths have been blamed on the powerful storm during its weeklong march across the Caribbean, five of them in Haiti. But with a key bridge washed out, roads impassable and phone communications down, the part of Haiti hit the hardest remains isolated and there was no word on dead and injured.
President Obama visited FEMA headquarters Wednesday afternoon and underscored the danger the “serious storm” poses to the U.S.
“If you get an evacuation order, just remember that you can always rebuild, you can always repair property, you cannot restore a life if it is lost,” Mr. Obama said.
The Category 3 storm is expected to start affecting the Florida Atlantic coast with tropical storm conditions by early Thursday, but Gov. Scott said the time to prepare is now. Matthew is projected to strengthen back into a Category 4 with estimated 145 mph sustained winds as it passes the Bahamas.
Florida and other Atlantic Coast states have begun mobilizing their disaster response teams in earnest, and mandatory evacuations are expected to begin by Wednesday afternoon. Its projected path puts millions of people in line for at least an indirect hit of the giant storm.
“Don’t focus on the projected path,” Scott said at a news conference urging people in low-lying areas to evacuate immediately, adding that a small deviation from Hurricane Matthew’s current trajectory could “mean catastrophic devastation.”
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the eye of Matthew at 11 a.m. EDT was centered about 55 miles northeast of Cabo Lucrecia, Cuba. It was heading northwest at 12 mph.
The Florida governor said people who stay for the storm could easily become trapped.
“During the storm, we cannot put a first responder’s life at risk,” Scott said. “You better prepare yourself.”
Classes along the entire Atlantic coastline of Florida have been canceled already. Officials in central Florida’s Brevard County have ordered residents on barrier islands and in flood-prone areas to evacuate in advance of the powerful hurricane. Residents who live in mobile and manufactured homes also are being ordered to leave.
Forecasters said Hurricane Matthew’s high winds, pounding rains and storm surge were already beginning to have an impact in the southern Bahamas as the storm, with top sustained winds of 125 mph.
A day earlier, Matthew swept across a remote area of Haiti with 145 mph winds, and government leaders said they weren’t close to fully gauging the impact in the vulnerable, flood-prone country where less powerful storms have killed thousands.
States of emergency have been declared across Florida, parts of Georgia and North Carolina and in all of South Carolina, where Governor Nikki Haley is ordering more than a million people to move inland.
At a press conference Wednesday, S.C. Governor Nikki Haley said 250,000 people were being ordered to evacuate two coastal counties, a figure not including the tourists there too.
Haley said the two counties -- Charleston and Beaufort -- will begin evacuating at 3 p.m. Wednesday. She said evacuations in Georgetown and Horry counties will be on Thursday.
The hurricane rolled across the sparsely populated tip of Cuba overnight, destroying dozens of homes in Cuba’s easternmost city, Baracoa, and leaving hundreds of others damaged.
A Pentagon spokesperson told CBS News correspondent David Martin that the Navy base at Guantanamo Bay on Cuba’s eastern tip “weathered the storm nicely” and should resume normal operations by noon Wednesday. Detainees “sheltered in place,” meaning they were not moved outside the prison compound.
CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez found so many people fueling up at a service station in Pembroke Pines, Florida on Tuesday night, a man was directing traffic to the pumps.
“There were quite a few lines earlier so we decided to come out a little later,” said Judy Karagiannes, fueling up. “We figured you know, maybe later would be better.”
Residents said the strength of the winds and the size of the storm made them want to be prepared.
“Been through Wilma and Katrina and pretty much seen what devastation they can cause - so not taking any chances,” a resident said.