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Obama declares state of emergency in Florida as Hurricane Matthew approaches

Matthew strengthens to Category 4 Hurricane

President Barack Obama has declared an emergency in the state of Florida and has ordered federal aid to supplement state, tribal, and local response efforts to Hurricane Matthew.

Obama's action authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts to alleviate the suffering caused by the hurricane. The directive applies to more than two dozen counties in Florida.

WATCH LIVE: Special coverage as Hurricane Matthew approaches Florida

Emergency declarations are designed to help provide emergency services to protect lives and property, and to lessen the threat of a catastrophe.

Matthew strengthens to Category 4 Hurricane

Hurricane Matthew roared back up to a Category 4 late Thursday morning, with maximum sustained winds at 140 mph, the National Hurricane Center says.

BY THE NUMBERS: Hurricane Matthew's wrath

Hurricane Matthew is pummeling the Bahamas right now, and its dangerous winds have picked up speed as the storm continues north. Its next stop could be the United States.

Here's what you need to know now about the powerful storm that forecasters say is gaining strength:

  • Hurricane Matthew has strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph and gusts up to 165 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. Matthew continues to head towards Florida's east coast and is expected to hit the coast late Thursday or early Friday. As of 11 a.m. ET, it was located about 180 miles southeast of West Palm Beach and was moving northwest at 14 mph.
  • The storm has already killed at least 28 people in three Caribbean countries. Twenty-three died in Haiti alone, said Civil Protection Service spokesman Joseph Edgard Celestin, who says communication issues have prevented authorities from assessing the damage and casualties in the far southwest portion of the country.
  • 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 early Friday 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%."
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott offered a dire warning Thursday morning for people living in evacuation zones: "This is serious. ... Don't take a chance. A small movement (of the storm) could mean a lot. That's why we have to prepare for a direct hit. So again, 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."
  • "This could be an extremely disastrous hurricane for so many large areas where so many people can be affected," National Hurricane Center Director Rick Knabb told CNN Thursday. "It's not just going to come ashore and affect a narrow zone and then move on. It's going to be going up the coast and could remain a major hurricane at the coast, or very close to it, the whole way up. That's awful."

Tracking Hurricane Matthew with Paul Gross

Posted by WDIV Local 4 / ClickOnDetroit on Thursday, October 6, 2016

Death toll rises to 113

Hurricane Matthew pounded the Bahamas Thursday after leaving behind a humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

The storm killed at least 113 people in Haiti, the Dominican Republic and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said.

Haiti, still recovering from the catastrophic 2010 earthquake, was hit the hardest. The storm killed at least 108 people there. As the death toll rises and crucial infrastructure crumbles, thousands have been displaced. Mourad Wahba, the UN secretary-general's deputy special representative for Haiti, described Matthew as the "largest humanitarian event" since the earthquake.

The devastation was especially brutal in southern Haiti, where winds of 125 mph (200 kph) destroyed homes, flooded villages and cut off the island from the rest of the country.

READDeath toll climbs as Haiti hit hard by deadly storm

National Route 2, which connects Port-au-Prince with Haiti's southern peninsula, broke apart when the bridge collapsed, the country's civil protection agency said. In the wake of the storm, the Electoral Commission postponed the country's presidential election, which had been scheduled for Sunday. A new date has not been set.

VIDEO: Hurricane sweeps away major bridge in Haiti

Florida braces for direct hit

Gov. Scott warned 1.5 million residents they had 24 hours to get ready, or better yet, get going.

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.

READ'This storm will kill you,' FL gov. warns ahead of Hurricane Matthew

People who stayed behind stocked up on supplies and boarded up windows.

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. Fort Lauderdale's airport closes Thursday at 10:30 a.m. and Miami international Airport said in a tweet that it had canceled almost 650 flights and is expecting most flights to be canceled by noon. Orlando International, which has already seen 180 flights canceled, will stop flights at 8 p.m. ET, spokeswoman Carolyn Fennell said.

Tampa International Airport has reported a handful of cancelations and delays, while Jacksonville International Airport intends to remain open as long as planes can fly in, spokeswoman Debbie Jones said.

Palm Beach residents cleared many grocery store shelves ahead of the storm.

In Jupiter, resident Randy Jordan told CNN affiliate WPEC people were pushing and shoving their way through the local Home Depot to buy supplies ranging from batteries to flashlights.

Residents still had a sense of humor. Olivia A. Cole posted a photo on Twitter of an empty grocery shelf, save for eight cans of a soup typically enjoyed in another part of the country. "South Florida wants to survive #HurricaneMatthew. But we'd rather die than eat clam chowder," Cole joked.

Families flee

Rosa Linda Roman and her family poured their dreams into their new home -- a boat docked in West Palm Beach, Florida.

But this week, they started seeing frightening reports about deadly Hurricane Matthew.

"The boat is in direct path of the hurricane at this point. If it hits as the model predicts, we will not have a home anymore," Roman said.

MORE: Family hopes to flee before hurricane hits

When the possible path of the storm became clear the family attempted to find a marina further inland -- but the ones that could handle a boat the size of theirs already were full.

With Hurricane Matthew projected to swipe Florida as a Category 4 storm, many coastal residents like Roman have fled their homes.

More than 2 million people have been urged to flee in parts of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia as a state of emergency has been declared in the three states.

Hurricane Matthew is expected to make landfall Thursday. The storm has already killed at least 15 people in Caribbean countries

'It's scary'

Like many evacuees, Roman doesn't know if her family will have a home to return to after the hurricane.

Three months ago, Roman, her husband and their three kids moved from New Mexico into a sailing catamaran in Palm Beach, Florida. They prepped their boat, called Dawn Treader, for a journey to the Bahamas in December.

But those plans feel very distant now.

"It's scary," said Ahava Goldfein, Roman's 11-year-old daughter. She packed her belongings and helped secure the boat with her parents, to prevent parts from becoming flying projectiles during the storm.

RELATED: 'Life-threatening flash floods, mudslides' expected

"My dad's been saying: 'Prepare for the worst, hope for the best,' she said. "I wanted a plan. Let's say it hits with the speed that they say it's at. What would we do?"

Ahava and her family crammed what they could into their minivan and said farewell to their home. Roman posted a Facebook video with tears in her eyes as the family made last-minute preparations.

They drove across the state to Fort Myers on Wednesday night, away from the storm.

"You learn what's important really fast," Roman said, after her family checked into a hotel room. "My kids are getting an early education on what matters. What matters is what's in this hotel room right now."

Rush to stores and roads in Florida

As the storm neared Florida, it prompted long lines to snake in front of gas stations. Cars crammed highways. Miami officials lifted all tolls on its expressways to alleviate the exodus.

Shoppers waited in front of the Publix store in Miami Shores, trying to stock up on water, canned foods and batteries. Residents also lamented price increases in high-demand items although Florida law prohibits price gouging in essentials such as food, water and gas.

LIVE RADAR: Tracking Hurricane Matthew

"They're expensive, especially, I mean, during a hurricane," said Caroline Levy told CNN affiliate WSVN, about the price of gas. "All kinds of families should have access to get what they need, and it makes it more difficult for everybody."

Disappointed drivers drove around looking for gas as they found shuttered gas pumps in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

People were also concerned that potential power outage could render their credit cards worthless and withdrew as much cash as they could.

Evacuees scrambled to find hotels. Many were completely booked.

Sorting through what matters

In coastal South Carolina, evacuees also hit the roads. Business owners boarded up their stores as residents boarded up their homes.

Many also gathered up personal items.

"You go through everything that means something to you," Laura Pavlides, a Folly Beach, South Carolina, resident told CNN affiliate WSCS. "Then you find out you have to half that, and half that. So whatever is going to fit in the back of a mini-van, so that's hard."

"It's just a lot of stuff to pack," said Chris Pavlides, her son. "Makes you want less things in life."

But not everyone heeded calls to evacuate.

In Charleston, South Carolina, Cheryl Quinn told CNN's Stephanie Elam she was planning to hunker down. 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," because storms can be scary, she added.

Still, Quinn has a hotel reservation just in case.

"We're kind of just playing it by ear."

Officials cautioned residents of Florida, South Carolina and Georgia not to wait to decide whether they should stay or go.

Mandatory evacuations in South Carolina

Cars packed highways in South Carolina, where Gov. Nikki Haley gave evacuation orders for the coastal counties of Charleston and Beaufort.

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.

VIDEO: Evacuations ordered ahead of Hurricane Matthew's arrival

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. In Charleston, which likely will feel Matthew's impact this weekend, 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, adding that storms can be scary, too.

But she told CNN 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.

The changing forecast now predicts the storm won't have as great an impact on the state as once feared, and Matthew might even turn around before it gets there.

"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.