The potential destruction and danger that Hurricane Matthew may bring is quickly becoming a reality for residents in Florida, where such a severe storm has not impacted the area for more than a century.
As officials repeatedly urge the evacuation of impact zones, a highly respected Jacksonville anchorman issued his own impassioned plea to get out.
“I want to talk to you people for a minute, not as Tom the newsman,” Tom Willis of WJXT4 said during Thursday’s broadcast, choking up as he warned viewers to take authorities’ warnings seriously.
“We’ve been together for 40 years, you and I, it’s time to take precautions. It’s time to protect yourself,” he said. “This is not going to be like anything that we’ve ever seen before.”
Urging Floridians to think back on the devastation Hurricane Katrina brought to Louisiana, he said; “We’re in for a terrible, terrible experience.”
More than 800 people in Haiti have reportedly died as a result of the Hurricane.
According to Haiti's Civil Protection Agency, three people are missing and 186 people have been wounded. Officials say 61,537 people are seeking refuge in 192 shelters.
In Florida, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration [NOAA] noted “catastrophic damage is anticipated for coastal areas,” with winds of 115-125 miles per hour and gusts beyond that in most affected areas.
“A major hurricane has not impacted this area in 118 years — forget about [Hurricane] Dora — since October 2, 1898. There is no local living memory of the potential for this event,” Wills said as he read NOAA’s statement.
“Do whatever’s necessary to protect yourself and your family,” he continued.
Still, some Floridians have decided to ride out the storm at home, which authorities have cautioned against.
Melbourne-based radio personality Tony Zazza urged those choosing to stay in flood zones to rethink their decision in an emotional Facebook post.
“If anybody watching is beachside, I’d highly encourage you to leave the barrier island today before it gets bad,” he said Thursday, explaining that he was leaving his home with his animals to stay with a friend on the mainland.
“I hope this storm isn’t as bad as they’re saying and hopefully we can all look back and realize it wasn’t as bad as they had predicted, but that’s not what it’s looking like right now so, it’s just hard to walk away from your house,” Zazza said, fighting back tears. “I’ve been through earthquakes, I’ve been through tornados, but I’m not going to lie, I’m scared.”
Matthew claimed its first U.S. victim, as authorities confirmed a person died overnight when emergency officials were forced to suspend operations because of the storm.
Authorities fear a potential storm surge of up to 10 feet over about 500 miles of coast stretching from central Florida to South Carolina might also form, as the deadly storm is likely to run parallel to the shore over the next two days. Devastating flooding is also feared.
“This community is absolutely incredible, so we’re going to be okay,” Zazza said, “but just pray for everybody along the Florida coast because Matthew is, Matthew’s coming our way and packing a big punch.”