South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency on Tuesday and ordered an evacuation of more than a million people in coastal areas starting Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of Hurricane Matthew.
Florida and Georgia have also called states of emergency for a storm that has pounded the Caribbean with 145 mile-per-hour (230 kph) winds and surging seas and was expected to start affecting U.S. coastal areas late on Thursday or early Friday.
Haley pleaded with people to get 100 miles (160 km) away from the coast, but did not say if there would be penalties for those who refuse to comply.
“We don’t do voluntary or mandatory anymore. An evacuation is an evacuation,” Haley told reporters.
By declaring a state of emergency, Haley can mobilize 1,800 members of the National Guard.
Highways will have all traffic lanes directed away from the coast for the evacuation, and the state will close schools and county government offices in 26 of the state’s 46 counties staring Wednesday.
Matthew will be a Category 2 or Category 3 hurricane when it brushes or hits South Carolina on Friday night, she said. Officials anticipate 100 mph (160 kph) winds and five- to seven-foot (1.5- to 2-meter) storm surges in coastal South Carolina, she said.
Heavy storms in South Carolina last October killed at least 17 people.
Several coastal schools, universities and municipalities, including the city of North Charleston, announced they would close starting on Wednesday.
Emergency officials in the Myrtle Beach area advised residents of evacuation zones and routes.
Florida Governor Rick Scott, who declared a state of emergency for all 67 counties on Monday, has activated 200 members of the Florida National Guard to support any needed hurricane response and put another 6,000 on standby.
Other state agencies prepared by ensuring fuel supplies in potential evacuation zones, readying shelters and highways to handle any evacuees, and taking inventory of emergency food supplies in state schools and warehouses.
In Georgia, Governor Nathan Deal issued a state of emergency for 13 counties in coastal areas.
“I’ve ordered the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMHSA) to work with appropriate state and local agencies to ensure all precautions are taken to protect residents and minimize risks to property and roads,” Deal said in a statement.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Tom Brown)