Hurricane Matthew continues to move toward Florida, southern NC coastline

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The 5 a.m. model released Thursday has Hurricane Matthew continuing its track toward Florida, making landfall late Thursday night and early Friday morning, before hitting the southern North Carolina coastline early Sunday morning.

Matthew, a Category 3 storm, is currently over the islands of the Bahamas and moving at 12 mph with sustained winds of 125 mph.

As it continues to push northwestward, Matthew is expected to strengthen to Category 4 as it moves through warm Bahamian waters, before exiting the area Thursday night.

Models show the storm taking a dramatic turn southeast on Saturday and Sunday after passing the North and South Carolina coasts.

[Image of 5-day forecast and coastal areas under a warning or a watch]

As it continues to move toward Florida, forecasters expanded their hurricane warning to cover nearly the entire east coast of the state, from the Miami-Dade and Broward County line north to Flagler County, just south of Jacksonville.

In Florida, which hasn’t had a major hurricane make landfall in more than a decade, Gov. Rick Scott urged residents to remain on high alert and be prepared for a direct hit. They are predicting between 3 and 5 feet up and down the coast.

In North Carolina on Monday, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency for 66 counties in North Carolina, including those in the immediate Piedmont Triad area. On Tuesday evening Hyde County issued a mandatory evacuation for Ocracoke Island. Topsail Beach is conducting a voluntary evacuation.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley announced Tuesday afternoon that all coastal communities are being evacuated at least 100 miles inland Wednesday. Wednesday afternoon, lane reversals began on Interstate 26 to allow for evacuations.

The storm hit the Bahamas on Wednesday after leaving behind a humanitarian crisis in Haiti. At least 15 people have died from Matthew in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said.