Florida, South Carolina on high alert as Hurricane Matthew tears through Caribbean

Officials in South Carolina and South Florida urged residents Wednesday to begin to prepare for evacuation and stock up on supplies as Hurricane Matthew began to make its way up the Eastern seaboard.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she would issue an evacuation order later in the day so that at least 1 million people would have time to escape the coast, while residents stormed hardware stores, grocery stores and gas stations to get ready for the powerful Category 3 storm.

According to Fox Carolina, Greenville County schools weren’t going to run buses Wednesday for students and instead drivers would be sent to the coast to help evacuate residents. Students expecting buses and have no other mode of transportation would be excused.

In South Florida, government officials are worried residents have become complacent after 11 years of near misses. Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina along with Andrew were in the mind of officials as they spoke at a press conference Tuesday. Rep. Carlos Curbelo wants assurances that the federal, state and local governments are working together.

“We just can’t take it for granted that that’s always going to happen,” Curbelo said.

The Miami forecasters issued a hurricane warning for the area north of Golden Beach near Fort Lauderdale to Sebastian Inlet, meaning hurricane force winds of 74 mph or higher are expected within two days. A hurricane watch is in effect from Sebastian Inlet to the Daytona Beach area, meaning hurricane force winds could occur.

One the warnings were issued, grocery stores and gas stations began to feel the pressure from panicked residents trying to get supplies to prepare for the impending storm.

During rush hour Tuesday, long lines formed at gas stations in Charleston, South Carolina, snarling traffic as lines snaked out of gas stations and into travel lanes. At one gas station in Mount Pleasant, the line reached about a quarter mile down the street.

In South Florida, lines at grocery stores were heavier than usual and some essentials were in short supply. When Simone Corrado and her husband tried to buy water at their Publix in Davie near Fort Lauderdale, they mostly found empty shelves. There were a few bottles of high-end water brands, but there was so much empty shelf space that Corrado lay down and fully stretched out on the bottom shelf.

“I got scared because all that was left at Publix was just the pricey water,” said Corrado, who lived through 1992’s catastrophic Hurricane Andrew, which practically leveled the nearby city of Homestead. “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 warned residents to be prepared to take a direct hit. He also gave some tips on hurricane preparedness on Twitter early Wednesday.

Governors in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina declared states of emergency, and the White House said President Barack Obama canceled a campaign and health care events in Florida on Wednesday and would instead visit the headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for an update.

Some airlines let passengers change travel plans without penalty if their trip might be affected by Matthew.

Near Fort Lauderdale, The Home Depot in Davie briefly ran out of propane for gas barbecues and the supply of batteries was dwindling. People bought plywood to cover windows, tarps to put over outdoor furniture and coolers for food storage.

Anesthesiologist Darby Lipka lugged a 20-pound propane tank across the parking lot, saying he had already purchased food and water. He installed hurricane windows years ago so he wouldn’t need to erect shutters

“I am just trying to be prepared,” he said.

Haley said state officials would reverse lanes on major evacuation routes in South Carolina. It would be the first major evacuation since Hurricane Floyd in 1999, when the governor at the time didn’t reverse the lanes and Interstate 26 became a parking lot. A typically two-hour drive from Charleston to Columbia turned into 24-hour nightmare.

Hurricane Matthew, currently a Category 3 storm with top sustained winds of 125 mph, has already left 11 dead in its path as it moved through Colombia, Haiti, Cuba and set its sights on the Bahamas.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew — recently a Category 4 storm and at one brief point a fierce Category 5 — will remain a powerful storm at least through Thursday night. It added that while maximum winds decreased slightly in recent hours, further fluctuations in intensity are possible in coming days.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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