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Hurricane Matthew could hit Florida as death toll rises to 140

Mass evacuation under way in four US states as storm picks up speed

Published: Updated:

Hurricane Matthew, the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade, strengthened as it barreled toward the southeastern United States on Thursday after killing at least 140 people, mostly in Haiti, on its deadly northward march.

As Matthew blew through the northwestern Bahamas on Thursday en route to Florida’s Atlantic coast, it became an “extremely dangerous” hurricane carrying winds of 140 miles per hour (220 kph), the US National Hurricane Center said.

That made it a Category 4 hurricane and it was likely to remain so as it approached the United States, where it could either take direct aim at Florida or brush along the state’s coast through Friday night, the center said.

Some 136 people were killed in Haiti, local officials said, and thousands were displaced after the storm flattened homes, uprooted trees and inundated neighborhoods earlier in the week.

It was too soon to predict where Matthew might do the most of its damage in the United States more than 12 million people in the United States were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.

Roads filled with evacuees

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 with not just high winds but strong storm surges and drenching rain.

Florida Governor Rick Scott warned there could be “catastrophic” damage if Matthew slammed directly into the state, and urged some 1.5 million people there to heed evacuation orders.

“If you’re reluctant to evacuate, just think about all the people who have been killed,” Scott said at 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.”

Scott, who activated several thousand National Guard troops to help deal with the storm, warned that millions of people were likely to be left without power.

Florida, Georgia and South Carolina opened shelters for evacuees. As of Thursday morning, more than 3,000 people were being housed in 60 shelters in Florida, Scott said.

Federal emergency response teams were coordinating with officials in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina and stockpiling supplies.