2 million people flee as Hurricane Matthew churns toward U.S. Southeast coast
About two million people have been urged to evacuate their homes as Hurricane Matthew protrudes towards Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas and along the east coast, packing power the US has not seen in more than a decade.
Matthew was a dangerous and life-threatening Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph as it passed through the Bahamas and it was expected to be very near Florida’s Atlantic coast by Thursday evening local time.
At least 16 deaths in the Caribbean have been blamed on the storm, with heavy damage reported in Haiti.
In Fort Lauderdale, about 200 miles south, six employees at a seven-bedroom Mediterranean-style mansion packed up for an evacuation fearing any storm surge could flood the property.
The homeowners planned to move to another home they owned in Palm Beach, further from the water. Two Lamborghinis and a Ferrari had been placed inside the garage, but employee Mae White was not sure what they would do with a Rolls-Royce, Mustang and other cars still parked in the driveway.
In South Carolina, governor Nikki Haley for the first time reversed the lanes of Interstate 26 so all lanes of traffic were heading west and out of Charleston. Plans to reverse the lanes were put in place after hours-long traffic jams during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
The governor planned to call for more evacuations on Thursday, which would bring the total to about 500,000 people in the state.
Florida urged or ordered about 1.5 million to leave the coast, said Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman for governor Rick Scott. In Georgia, around 50,000 people were told to go.
US president Barack Obama visited the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s headquarters on Wednesday to be briefed on preparations.
Airlines cancelled 1,594 flights until Friday, according to Houston-based FlightAware.com.
It said 124 flights were axed in the US, Bahamas and Haiti on Wednesday due to the storm. The most affected airports were Miami (51 flights) and Nassau, Bahamas (43 flights). It said American Airlines canceled the most flights – 63.