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Photos: Florida braces for ‘direct hit’ by Hurricane Matthew

MIAMI — Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for the entire state. In doing so, he warned that a direct hit by Matthew could lead to “massive destruction” on a level unseen since Hurricane Andrew devastated the Miami area in 1992.

The top priority, Scott said, would be to ensure that Florida did not add to Matthew’s death toll, which has climbed to seven people by late Tuesday.

“We have to be prepared for a major hurricane,” Scott said. “We have to prepare for a direct hit.”

As part of Florida’s preparation, Scott said he planned to activate 500 additional National Guard members by Wednesday morning.

Scott advised Florida residents who live near the East Coast to leave before travel becomes difficult. He told reporters Tuesday that evacuation orders could be imminent.

Brevard County commissioners ordered one of the state’s first mandatory evacuations for residents of Merritt Island and other barrier islands. Residents are being ordered to leave starting 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Forecasters predict the storm could hit parts of Florida starting Thursday night. Starting late Tuesday night, the National Hurricane Center had placed parts of south Florida — including parts of metro Miami and Lake Okeechobee — under a hurricane warning.

Meanwhile, a hurricane watch extends from the Sebastian Inlet north up to the Volusia/Brevard county line, including Boca Raton, West Palm Beach, Fort Pierce, Vero Beach and Cape Canaveral.

The effects of the incoming storm have already been felt at gas stations in South Florida. WSVN reported long lines at gas pumps at a Costco in North Miami Beach.