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Obama Signs Emergency Declaration for Florida Before Hurricane Matthew Hits

President Obama has approved emergency aid for Florida before Category 4 Hurricane Matthew is expected to make landfall tonight.

The National Weather Service has issued a hurricane warning along the east coast of Florida up northward to Edisto Beach, S.C. The west coast of Florida from Anclote River to Suwannee River as well as the Florida Keys are under a tropical storm warning. A hurricane watch is in effect north of Edisto Beach to South Santee River in South Carolina.

“Reports form an Air Force plane indicate that the maximum sustained winds are near 140 mph (220 km/h) with higher gusts. Matthew is a category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. Some additional strengthening is possible, and Matthew should remain a Category 4 hurricane while it approaches the Florida coast,” the NWS said at 11 a.m. EST. “Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 60 miles (95 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 160 miles (260 km).”

“Hurricane conditions are expected to first reach the hurricane warning area in Florida by late today and will spread northward within the warning area through Friday. Tropical storm conditions are first expected in Florida within the next several hours. Hurricane conditions are possible in the hurricane watch area in northeast Georgia and South Carolina by early Saturday, with tropical storm conditions possible on Friday night.”

The storm surge will depend on where the hurricane strikes at high tide, and “large waves generated by Matthew will cause water rises to occur well in advance of and well away from the track of the center,” the NWS added.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott requested Wednesday that Obama issue in advance an Emergency Declaration for the state of Florida in 28 counties, “as well as Direct Federal Assistance in order to meet pre-landfall critical emergency needs of our communities.”

The request covers Baker, Brevard, Broward, Citrus, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Glades, Hendry, Hernando, Highlands, Indian River, Lake, Marion, Martin, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Nassau, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Polk, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, St. Lucie, and Volusia counties.

“It is critical that President Obama quickly approves this request,” said Scott, who also activated 2,500 National Guard and has 4,000 more ready to deploy if needed.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) stressed today that “this is an extremely dangerous and potentially deadly storm for Florida, which has not seen a hurricane like this in more than a decade.”

“If you live in an evacuation zone and are in the storm’s path, you need to evacuate immediately to prevent loss of life and minimize the need for first responders to risk their own lives.”

Scott warned the 1.5 million Floridians under evacuation orders today that “time is up.”

“You have to evacuate now if you are in an evacuation zone. To everyone on Florida’s east coast, if you are reluctant to evacuate, just think of all the people the hurricane has already killed,” he said. “You and your family could be among these numbers if you don’t take this seriously.”

The emergency aid signed by Obama covers all the requested counties and is effective from Oct. 3 onward.

It authorizes the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) “to coordinate all disaster relief efforts which have the purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe,” according to the White House.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest encouraged East Coasters to “stay up to date on the weather forecast.”

“Those of you who have been covering this story know that the weather forecast or the forecast track of the storm has changed multiple times just this week,” Earnest said. “So it certainly is not outside the realm of possibility that it could change once again. We want to encourage people to stay up to date on that.”