CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Hurricane Matthew gained new fury as it hammered the central Bahamas early Thursday, and forecasters said the life-threatening storm is expected to strengthen as it approaches Florida’s heavily populated Atlantic coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Matthew, though still a dangerous Category 3 hurricane as the day dawned, was expected to regain status as an even more powerful Category 4 storm in coming hours. Top sustained winds ratcheted up from 115 mph to 125 mph overnight.
As the threat from the major hurricane rose along the Southeast seacoast, the center extended a hurricane warning area on a large swath of Florida’s east coast farther up to Altamaha Sound, Georgia. And it said a newly expanded hurricane watch area would now reach from the Altamaha Sound to the South Santee River in South Carolina.
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.