• Gov. Rick Scott of Florida told the 1.5 million residents in evacuation zones: “You need to leave. Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”
• The hurricane’s center is about 215 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, Fla., moving northwest at 12 miles per hour over the Bahamas.
• The storm is expected to intensify to become a Category 4 hurricane with winds of at least 130 m.p.h.
• A hurricane warning is in effect from northern Miami-Dade County, Fla., to the Altamaha Sound, between Jacksonville, Fla., and Savannah, Ga. A hurricane watch runs from Altamaha Sound to the South Santee River in South Carolina, between Charleston and Myrtle Beach.
• New York Times journalists covering the storm include Lizette Alvarez in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; Azam Ahmed and Nick Madigan in Miami; Frances Robles in Titusville, Fla.; Les Neuhaus in Jacksonville, Fla.; Alan Blinder in Atlanta; and Richard Fausset and Jess Bidgood in Charleston, S.C.
Florida Governor: Get Out Now
Florida’s governor pleaded with people on Thursday to evacuate from the state’s east coast as Hurricane Matthew threatened to roar past as a Category 4 storm.
“There are no excuses,” Mr. Scott said in Tallahassee, the state capital. “You need to leave. Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”
Mr. Scott, who has spent days warning that the storm could be catastrophic in a state that has not had a major hurricane make landfall since 2005, added: “This storm will kill you. Time is running out.”
In the hours before Mr. Scott appeared in Tallahassee, the forecast for Florida seemed to grow grimmer, and evacuations were underway all along the state’s eastern coast. Tropical storm-force winds of at least 39 m.p.h. are expected to begin lashing the state by late Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said, with hurricane-force winds arriving by sometime Thursday night.
The governor’s office said that more than 1.5 million people were in evacuation zones, and that tolls had been suspended on the Florida Turnpike and other crucial routes. Officials planned to open more than 100 shelters statewide, and 2,500 National Guard soldiers had been activated. The Coast Guard closed major ports, including facilities in Fort Pierce, Miami and Palm Beach. — LIZETTE ALVAREZ and ALAN BLINDER
‘I’ve Got Doritos. I’m Good’
In Port St. Lucie, Fla., a golfer’s paradise and the home of spring training for the New York Mets, Hurricane Matthew seemed more a nuisance than a threat early Thursday. The storm was still plowing through the Bahamas, so far away that people in Port St. Lucie, just a few miles from the coast, occupied their time with last-minute preparation and by playing a guessing game.
Will the storm stay a Category 3, or will it strengthen into a more monstrous Category 4? How high will the storm surge be? Will this area bear the brunt, or will Vero Beach or Fort Pierce? Will barrier beach communities have any beaches left?
Rick Dixon, who moved to Florida from Ohio 25 years ago, chuckled at the growing panic around him as he left a Publix grocery store, holding a bag with yogurt, corn and a few other nonessential items.
“I’ve got Doritos,” said Mr. Dixon, 71. “I’m good.”
Mr. Dixon said he was so confident nothing major would come of the storm he did little to secure his house.
His neighbor, on the other hand, a hurricane novice from New York, was taking things a lot more seriously. Mr. Dixon said she asked him whether it was smart to cut out her screens as she had heard somebody suggest. He laughed. — LIZETTE ALVAREZ
Georgia, Rarely in Path of Hurricanes, Prepares
People near Georgia’s 100 miles of coastline, wedged between a state bracing for its first major hurricane in more than a decade and another that began mass evacuations on Wednesday, prepared on Thursday for a rare brush with a tropical cyclone.
The authorities recommended voluntary evacuations in parts of the six counties that face the Atlantic. Gov. Nathan Deal declared emergencies there and in 24 inland counties.
“I urge Georgians in the affected areas to remain calm, be prepared and make informed, responsible decisions as we continue to monitor Hurricane Matthew’s path,” Mr. Deal said in a statement.
Forecasts suggest that Georgia will maintain its 37-year streak of not having a hurricane make landfall from the Atlantic, but officials said that even a small change in the storm’s path could substantially increase the risks to the state. No major hurricane — defined as a Category 3 storm or greater — has directly struck Georgia since 1898, the state said.
By Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center had placed the entire Georgia coast under a hurricane warning or watch.
— ALAN BLINDER
South Carolina: Quiet Streets of Charleston
On Thursday morning, the ghosts in the lovely old city of Charleston had ample room. The streets of the historic district were largely devoid of human life in the pre-dawn darkness. A hard wind whipped through the palms.
Charleston’s evacuation began around 3 p.m. Wednesday, as officials, bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, reversed the highway lanes out of town. Other areas of the South Carolina coast will be evacuated on Thursday morning, Gov. Nikki R. Haley said.
Ms. Haley said Thursday that about 175,000 people had evacuated, but she quickly added: “That’s not enough.” About 2,000 National Guard soldiers were assisting in preparation efforts.
Charleston, South Carolina’s second-largest city, has enjoyed a remarkable renaissance. The metro area’s population is booming. New luxury hotels have bloomed among elegant downtown buildings, and new technology industries have attracted a young and prosperous work force.
But none of that success has made low-lying Charleston any less vulnerable to the ravages of a powerful storm. Many here remember how badly the city was pummeled by Hurricane Hugo in 1989. In October, historic rainfall resulted in flash flooding.
So what to do? Before closing its offices this week, the city distributed 15,500 sandbags to residents — a record. Many here took school buses out of town on Wednesday, inland, to Greenville. Many others drove out on packed highways away from the coast. — RICHARD FAUSSET