As South Florida began to see squalls from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew on Thursday morning, Florida Gov. Rick Scott didn’t sugarcoat the danger that awaits coastal residents who don’t evacuate.
“This storm will kill you,” Scott said during a morning briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee. If “you’re in an evacuation area, get out. Don’t take a chance.”
“Do not surf. Do not go to the beach. This will kill you,” he added.
Scott said many residents seemed to heed the evacuation warnings because hotels on the west coast, such as in Collier County, were starting to fill up.
“Partners like Airbnb are making rooms available for free. Visit Florida and Expedia also have listings of open hotels,” Scott said. He also urged west coast residents — unlikely to be hit by the storm — to open their homes if they have rooms available.
About 1.5 million Floridians live in evacuation zones, and Scott repeatedly urged those remaining to leave immediately.
He said state officials are particularly concerned about Matthew’s impact on Palm Beach County, because “that’s the first big area that’ll be hit and conditions will arrive within hours.”
“The traffic is going to pick up,” he said. “It already picked up some yesterday. ... If you wait, all you’re going to do is get stuck in traffic and there’s a greater chance you’ll have problems with fuel.”
He advised residents to take only as much fuel as they need at local gas stations and don’t fill up their tanks unless they have to.
State Transportation Secretary Jim Boxold said state officials would continue monitoring traffic to keep it moving but he said, “we’re confident that where we are right now that we’ll be able to manage” without shifting evacuation routes into one-way roads.
“At this point, we don’t have any issues,” Scott added. “We’re watching every road and every evacuation area. We’ve gotten rid of the tolls. There’s no reason not to get out.”
Tolls were suspended late Wednesday on Florida’s Turnpike, Alligator Alley on Interstate 75, and roadways overseen by the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority and the Central Florida Expressway Authority.
Scott said 58 shelters were open in Florida as of Wednesday night, and another 84 were set to open on Thursday.
“I know no one wants to sit in a shelter, but you need to go there now and get through this storm,” he said. “Save your life.”
Scott said he had activated another 1,000 National Guard members — making for 2,500 members activated so far and up to 4,000 ready to be deployed. He said state emergency operations officials are pre-positioning equipment and personnel in three staging areas in north, central and South Florida.
He urged residents to prepare for potentially long-term power outages.
“Millions will lose power, possibly for a long period of time,” Scott said.
After the morning briefing, Scott was headed to Stuart and then possibly elsewhere around Florida, his third day of traveling the state to warn residents and monitor preparations. He said he would be back in Tallahassee by Thursday evening, where he planned to wait out the storm.
Wednesday evening, Scott requested that President Barack Obama declare a “pre-landfall” emergency in 26 counties along the east coast.
“I hope the president does it this morning before the storm begins,” Scott said, reiterating it a second time for emphasis.