Gov. Rick Scott early Wednesday evening lifted tolls on some of the state's major roads as Florida continued to prepare for the arrival of the slow-moving, powerful and deadly Hurricane Matthew.
Tolls were suspended on the Florida Turnpike, Alligator Alley and roads that are part of the Central Florida Expressway Authority and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority, Scott's office announced.
In addition to Scott issuing the toll-road order, the storm is forcing state government buildings and parks to close in numerous counties, some hospitals in Brevard, Volusia, and Duval counties have started evacuations, and state universities and colleges in central and eastern counties are canceling classes and student activities.
The eye of the storm, packing 120 mph sustained winds Wednesday afternoon, is projected by the National Hurricane Center to be along Florida's coast Thursday.
"This thing is getting close to our coast, you better be ready before," Scott said during an afternoon news conference at the Brevard County Emergency Operations Center in Rockledge. "If it turns at the last minute, you're not going to have time to get ready. You're not going to be able to get your food and water. You're not going to be able to evacuate. You're going to put you and your family's life at risk."
Scott has been calling for people to stock at least three days of supplies – food, water and batteries — if they don't plan to evacuate.
The track from the National Hurricane Center had the storm off Cape Canaveral about 8 a.m. Friday. Even if the storm stays offshore, the state is anticipated to get heavy rains, rip currents, beach erosion, tornadoes and hurricane-force winds.
In anticipation of the storm, the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex has announced plans to close Thursday and Friday.
Evacuations were underway at Cape Canaveral Hospital, Baptist Medical Center Beaches in Jacksonville Beach, Florida Hospital in Ormond Beach and Florida Hospital in New Smyrna Beach.
Brevard County issued a mandatory evacuation for barrier islands that went into effect at 3 p.m. Wednesday. Mandatory evacuations for barrier islands, low-lying areas and mobile homes were set to begin Thursday morning for coastal areas in Nassau and Volusia counties.
Voluntary evacuations have been advised in St. Lucie, Flagler, Duval, St. Johns, Palm Beach, Martin, Indian River and Broward counties.
Scott activated 1,500 members of the Florida National Guard for immediate deployment, with thousands of additional Guard members on stand-by.
State offices will be closed Thursday and Friday in Brevard, Flagler, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, St. Lucie and Volusia counties.