Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, barreled toward the southeastern United States on Thursday after killing at least 102 people, the death toll in struggling Haiti alone rising to 98, local officials told Reuters.
In United States, the storm headed northward on Thursday battering the Bahamas en route to Florida.
As Matthew blew through the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday, it was predicted to strengthen from a Category 3 to 4 storm en route to Florida’s Atlantic coast, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm could either take direct aim at Florida or brush along the state’s coast on Thursday night.
Some 65 people were killed in Haiti and thousands were displaced after the storm smashed homes and inundated neighborhoods earlier in the week.
The National Hurricane Center extended its hurricane warning area farther north into Georgia and more than 12 million U.S. residents were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.
Roads in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were jammed and gas stations and food stores ran out of supplies as the storm approached, carrying with it strong storm surges, heavy rain and sustained winds that accelerated overnight to about 125 miles per hour (205 kph).
Matthew was 215 miles (346 km) southeast of West Palm Beach at about 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT).
The damage could be “catastrophic” if the hurricane slammed directly into Florida, Governor Rick Scott warned, urging some 1.5 million people in the state to heed evacuation orders.
“If you’re reluctant to evacuate, just think about all the people who have been killed,” Scott told a news conference on Thursday. “Time is running out. This is clearly either going to have a direct hit or come right along the coast and we’re going to have hurricane-force winds.”
The CNN said Hurricane Matthew is pummeling the Bahamas and its dangerous winds have picked up speed as the storm continues north.
Its next stop could be the United States, CNN report said.
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 Centre. Matthew continues to head toward 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.