US President Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in the state of Florida as Hurricane Matthew strengthens on its way to the country’s southeastern coast.
Obama on Thursday ordered federal aid to supplement response efforts following the devastating storm.
He also authorized the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate efforts to alleviate the suffering caused by the hurricane.
Officials said the declaration is designed to help provide emergency services to protect lives and to lessen the threat of a catastrophe.
Eelier, authorities issued warnings for millions of residents in several coastal states along the Atlantic Ocean to evacuate.
The fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade has been forecast to inflict significant damage on the southeastern US starting Thursday and continuing into the weekend.
Over 12 million US residents were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel. Millions of residents have heeded warnings to flee inland.
Matthew has already claimed more than 300 lives and caused heavy property damage while passing through the Caribbean nations of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba.
Based on forecast models, the hurricane is also likely to impact Southeastern US, including the states of Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
About 8 million residents in the state of Florida are preparing to make last-minute preparations as the deadly storm was expected to strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane.
“Everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said at a news conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday. “If Matthew directly impacts Florida, the destruction could be catastrophic and you need to be prepared.”
US President Barack Obama told reporters on Wednesday that Hurricane Matthew is “a serious storm, and we want everybody to take it seriously as well.”
Fuel stations in Florida posted “out of gas” signs after cars waited in long lines to fill up. “Every gas station I went to is empty,” motorist Charles Bivona said in a tweet late Wednesday.
The National Hurricane Center said Matthew is the strongest hurricane in the Caribbean since Felix struck Central America in 2007.
“The extreme winds of a major hurricane can do a lot of damage and not just at the coast,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Center.
“Those winds can penetrate inland and that would be more so the case the closer it gets to the coast,” Knabb warned. “In addition to the wind, you have storm surge potential. People who have been told to evacuate, they need to get out this morning, right away, because time is running out fast. You don’t want to be caught in the storm surge which is the deadliest hazard of all.”