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Thousands on Atlantic Coast Flee Hurricane Matthew

Evacuations are expected to grow as the storm heads for Florida

Preparing for Hurricane Matthew

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS via Getty Images

Patrons wait in long lines for gas at a Costco store in Altamonte Springs, Fla.

People boarded up beach homes, schools were closed and officials ordered evacuations along the East Coast on Wednesday as Hurricane Matthew tore through the Bahamas and took aim at Florida, where the governor urged coastal residents to “leave now” if they were able.

Matthew was a dangerous and life-threatening Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph, and it was expected to come near Florida’s Atlantic coast by Thursday evening. At least 11 deaths in the Caribbean have been blamed on the storm.

In South Carolina, traffic was bumper to bumper as people fled on Interstate 26, the main artery out of Charleston. Gasoline was hard to find, with at least half a dozen stations along the coast out of fuel and long lines at others.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced plans starting Wednesday afternoon to evacuate a quarter-million people — not including tourists — from the coast.

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The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew — at one point a fierce Category 5 — will remain powerful at least through Thursday as it nears Florida. The Hurricane Center said fluctuation in intensity is expected and some strengthening is forecast as the storm crawls up the coast.

In Florida, theme park officials watched the storm closely and told customers to anticipate altered hours. Voluntary and mandatory evacuations were to take place Wednesday in the central part of the state.

“If you’re able to go early, leave now,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said.

—Terry Spencer and Jennifer Kay, Associated Press

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