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Obama: 'We don't know how bad damage could end up' from Hurricane Matthew

By Stephen Feller
Obama: 'We don't know how bad damage could end up' from Hurricane Matthew
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson, at right, U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, second from left and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor Amy Pope, at left, at a meeting in the Oval Office on October 7, 2016 to review plans for dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew. Pool Photo by Rod Lamkey/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, Oct. 7 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama urged residents of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to continue heeding warnings from local officials as Hurricane Matthew rampages northward along the east coast of the United States.

Obama said Friday during comments in the Oval Office that damage from the hurricane could be massive, as well as life-threatening if people closest to the storm's projected path don't get out of its way.

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Hurricane Matthew has already left a trail of death and destruction in the Caribbean, and while South Florida mostly avoided the worst of the storm, it is expected to cause significant flooding, storm surge and winds as it moves over Jacksonville and into Georgia and South Carolina in the next 24 hours.

"There are large population centers there that could be vulnerable, so pay attention to what your local officials are telling you," Obama said. "If they tell you to evacuate, you need to get out of there and move to higher ground because storm surge can move very quickly and people can think that they're out of the woods and then suddenly get hit and not be in a position in which they and their families are safe."

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On Thursday, Obama declared federal states of emergency for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, ordering federal aid to supplement what states have available. Obama said the Federal Emergency Management Agency already has pre-positioned resources, including equipment, water and food, ready to arrive where needed.

Obama emphasized the potential danger Matthew poses, invoking the memory of Hurricane Sandy and remembering that some people underestimated the after-effects of that storm, with authorities letting down their guard because it didn't "look as bad as we thought."

"And then suddenly you get massive storm surge and a lot of people were severely affected," Obama said. "So I just want to emphasize to everybody that this is still a really dangerous hurricane [and] that the potential for storm surge, flooding, loss of life and severe property damage continues to exist. And people continue to need to follow the instructions of their local officials over the course of the next 24, 48, 72 hours."

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In addition to the storm's effects on the United States, Obama noted the devastation in Haiti, which includes at least 260 deaths, left more than 350,000 people in need of help and destroyed tens of thousands of structures.

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"We're still tracking what happened in areas like Haiti that were hit more directly," Obama said. "Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has consistently been hit and battered by a lot of natural disasters to compound what is already great poverty there. We know that hundreds of people have lost their lives and that there's been severe property damage and they're going to need help rebuilding."

"I would ask all Americans to go the American Red Cross and other philanthropic agencies, to make sure that we're doing what we need to do to help people in need," he added.

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