Gov. Rick Scott has a message for Floridians: “Evacuate, evacuate, evacuate.”

“Don’t take a chance,” the governor said during a Hurricane Matthew briefing in St. Johns County on Thursday afternoon. “Time is running out. There are no excuses not to evacuate.”

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Matthew has strengthened to a catastrophic Category 4 storm as it barrels toward Florida’s Atlantic coast. The storm’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to 140 mph as of Thursday morning, and were expected to strengthen as the storm approached Florida.

“Our No. 1 priority is to protect every life,” said Scott.

More than 1.5 million Floridians in at least 14 counties are in evacuation zones. Scott directed the Department of Transportation to suspend all tolls in affected areas across the state, including Alligator Alley, the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, and the Florida Turnpike.

But Scott warned drivers to be patient, saying highways will get clogged up as more people evacuate. He also encouraged Floridians to get fuel, saying the state has enough fuel for eight days, even if all ports close.

The governor announced 3,500 members of the National Guard have been activated, more than half of the available troops. The governor said he will continue to activate members to help with evacuations, and prepare for search and rescue missions.

But Scott warned Floridians who choose to shelter in place are not just risking their own lives, but also the lives of first responders.

“Stop and think about it: We should not be putting lives at risk because you’ve made the foolish decision not to evacuate,” he said

Scott encouraged people living on Florida’s west coast to “call friends and offer them a place to stay.”

“If you think someone is making a bad decision, call them. Be a pain in the rear,” said Scott. “Pester them to get out and evacuate.”

— For shelter information in Florida, including for those with special needs, click here.

— For travel information, including evacuation routes, click here.

The Associated Press contributed to this post, reprinted with permission.

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