Scott said any who defied warnings faced life-threatening winds as strong as 150 mph, storm surges up to 9 feet and widespread power outages, USA Today reports.
“Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate,” a grim Scott said at a briefing flanked by emergency staff. He said he had added 1,000 National Guard troops to the 2,500 troops already deployed.
While the storm’s exact track could vary slightly as it locks into its final path in the sweep up from the Caribbean, Scott said Florida “must prepare for a direct hit.”
“This storm will kill you,” he said. “Time is running out. We don’t have much time left.”
As of 8 a.m. ET Thursday, the storm was centered about 215 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, Florida and moving northwest toward the state at 12 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Forecasters say the first outer rain bands from Hurricane Matthew have already begun to approach Florida as the big storm crosses the Bahamas toward the state.
It remained a Category 3 hurricane, with winds up to 125 mph, but was forecast to intensify to a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds from 130 mph to 156 mph.
Scott has already asked President Obama to declare a pre-landfall emergency and canceled tolls in the affected areas, including the entire Florida Turnpike, Alligator Alley, Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, to help speed evacuation.
There were 58 American Red Cross shelters open around the state by Wednesday night. Another 58 were expected to open Thursday. Florida Division of Emergency Management staffers spent Wednesday night finding ways to staff shelters, particularly in Brevard County.
At Miami International Airport, 341 arrivals and 305 departures — or about 90 percent of the daily flight schedule — had been cancelled by mid-morning.