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U.S. begins prep, evacuations for Hurricane Matthew

MIAMIHurricane Matthew has put officials up and down the East Coast on high alert, with some evacuations already beginning and emergency management personnel scrambling to plan.

The National Hurricane Center issuing a hurricane watch for South Florida on Tuesday, prompting officials in the Sunshine State to urge residents to prepare for the worst.

Hurricane Matthew was churning over Haiti Tuesday, packing sustained wind speeds of 145 mph and unleashing havoc on the impoverished island nation.

Forecasters say the Category 4 storm, which has been increasing in speed and intensity the last 24 hours, could pass directly over Florida’s Atlantic, with the state seeing hurricane conditions as early as Thursday.

After making several stops in potential danger zones, Florida Gov. Rick Scott repeatedly urged residents to “prepare for the worst.”

Scott said emergency management officials were focusing on the Interstate 95 corridor along the state’s Atlantic Coast, “from the Keys all the way up to Jacksonville.” The governor warned residents to take the storm seriously, adding “we cannot rule out a direct hit.” He said heavy rain, spin off tornadoes, high winds and beach erosion are among the concerns in Florida.

While Scott cautioned that the storm’s path and strength could change at any second, he and other officials did not want to leave anything to chance. The state could begin evacuations of low lying areas starting Wednesday, Scott said, adding that shelters are being prepared.

“Protecting life is our first priority,” Scott said.

The governor and other Florida officials urged residents to stock up on three-days worth of food and water, as well as to gas up and vehicles and generators.

CBS Miami reports many residents in South Florida had already begun doing so. Jenny Quinn, a shopper at a Miami Publix store, told CBS Miami: “A Category 4 you don’t mess afound with.”

Quinn said there’s one lesson she learned after going through a big storm.

“Just to have water, lots of water, it’s the most important thing because last time we were without water and electricity for a week,” she said.

President Barack Obama is postponing a planned Florida rally for Hillary Clinton because of Hurricane Matthew.

Obama had been scheduled to appear for Clinton on Wednesday in Miami Gardens. He was expected to emphasize the need for Democrats in Florida to make sure they’re registered to vote ahead of Election Day.

The governors of both the Carolinas issued states of emergency declarations by Monday for coastal counties. The storm could still be dangerous and hit them directly by the weekend.

Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina is already being evacuated as Hurricane Matthew approaches. 

Seashore Superintendent Patrick Kenney said Tuesday that no vehicles will be allowed to enter the seashore effective immediately. The ferries for vehicles will begin to take people and their cars off the islands. Cabins will be closed. 

Kenney said the 45 cabins on North Core and South Core islands were full, although he doesn’t know how many people are staying in them. He says more than 100 trucks are also on the islands. 

The third island in the seashore, Shackleford Banks, attracts mostly day users. 

Ferry operators have told Kenney it will take two days to evacuate everyone.

In a news release issued Sunday, the South Carolina Emergency Management Division recommended that the state’s emergency response team review plans. Officials in Horry, Beaufort and Charleston counties say they’re on alert status. 

Division Director Kim Stenson held conference calls this weekend with county emergency managers, emergency response team agencies and local National Weather Service offices. Stenson says the storm’s path is too uncertain to rule out any possibility.