CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Despite evacuation orders and dire warnings, Robert and Georgette Tyler say they are staying put in their 500-square foot rental home in Cape Canaveral, undeterred by a furious Hurricane Matthew, which was soon to be knocking on their door.
Taking a break from putting plywood on windows, Robert Tyler said he feared getting stuck in traffic and that it was too much trouble to pack up his motorcycles and firearms. He has two generators, 50 gallons of fuel and enough food and water for a week. Plus, he is a handyman and his phone will be ringing off the hook once the storm passes.
“It’s part of Florida life I guess, especially on the coast,” he said.
As Matthew put the U.S. in its sights, about 2 million people were encouraged to head inland ahead of the most powerful storm to threaten the Atlantic coast in more than a decade.
Matthew killed at least 16 people in the Caribbean as it cut through Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas. The storm was forecast to scrape much of the Florida coast Thursday night, potentially as a Category 4 storm with 130 mph (210 kph) winds, and any slight deviation could mean landfall or it heading farther out to sea. Either way, forecasters say it is going to be close enough to wreak havoc along the lower part of the East Coast, dumping up to 15 inches in rain in some spots. Storm surge of 5 to 8 feet was expected along the coast from central Florida into Georgia.
None of this mattered to John Long.
“The hype is going to be worse than the actual storm. I feel I can do quite well,” said Long, a bike shop owner who plans to ride out the storm with his cat in his 32-foot recreational vehicle a half-mile from the ocean. He has lived in the area for three decades. “There’s always tremendous buildup and then it’s no stronger than an afternoon thunderstorm. I’m not anticipating that much damage.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott urged people to reconsider.
“This is a dangerous storm,” Scott said. “The storm has already killed people. We should expect the same impact in Florida.”
Similar warnings were issued in Georgia and the Carolinas, where the storm is expected to arrive by the weekend. The last Category 3 storm or higher to hit the United States was Wilma in October 2005. It made landfall with 120 mph (190 kph) winds in southwest Florida, killing five people as it slashed across the state.
In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley reversed the lanes of Interstate 26 for the first time so that all lanes of traffic were headed west and out of Charleston. Plans to reverse the lanes were put in place after hours-long traffic jams during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
Haley planned to call for more evacuations on Thursday, which would bring the total to about 500,000 people in the state. Florida urged or ordered about 1.5 million to leave the coast, said Jackie Schutz, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Scott. Around 50,000 people told to go in Georgia.
On Tybee Island, home to Georgia’s largest public beach, Loren Kook was loading up his pickup truck with suitcases and a computer late Wednesday afternoon. He and his wife were trying to decide whether to board up their windows overlooking the marsh grasses of Horsepen Creek before hitting the road to metro Atlanta.
“It seems like a lot of the longtime residents are staying,” said Kook, who moved to the coast four years ago. “I’ve never sat through a Category Whatever. I’ll watch it on TV.”
In Fort Lauderdale, Semyon Marakhasin, 58, had hoped to evacuate with his wife and two grandchildren on Wednesday, but said all the hotels he called were sold out on Florida’s west coast. He found a room for Thursday night in Marco Island and said he’d leave first thing in the morning.
“No hotels available tonight,” he lamented.
He was sweating and panting Wednesday as he prepared his home in the blistering sun, bringing in patio furniture and other things from the backyard of a massive two-story porch with impressive white columns surrounded by more than a dozen palm trees.
“It’s not good when you have a big property and a lot of stuff. You feel a little scared,” said Marakhasin, whose home is just one block away from the Intercoastal waterway.
Kennedy reported from Fort Lauderdale. Associated Press reporters Terry Spencer in Fort Lauderdale, Freida Frisaro in Miami, Jennifer Kay in Miami Beach, Florida, Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia, Martha Waggoner in Raleigh, North Carolina, Jeffrey Collins, Jack Jones and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina; Bruce Smith in Charleston, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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