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Remembering Tom Wills’ impassioned plea as Hurricane Matthew approached

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tom Wills arrived at work as Hurricane Matthew was moving north off the coast of South Florida on Oct. 7, 2016. The warnings were dire.

“If a direct landfall occurs, this will be unlike any hurricane in modern era,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote in a bulletin.

Mayor Lenny Curry and other community leaders along the First Coast and beyond had urged people at the beaches and in flood-prone places to evacuate, but many had not.

Tom, who had built an immense level of trust with the greater Jacksonville community in more than four decades as anchor of WJXT, knew what he needed to do. He went on the air and spoke candidly to the viewers.

“I want to talk to you people for just a minute,” he began. “Not as Tom the newsman.”

After taking a moment to collect himself from rising emotions and receiving support from co-anchor Mary Baer, he continued.

“We’ve been together for 40 years, you and I,” he said to viewers. “It’s time to take precautions. It’s time to protect yourself.”

After reading the entire NOAA statement, he repeated the words from the normally reserved government agency: “Catastrophic damage.”

Anyone in the area five years ago knows Matthew made a jog east -- away from our coast -- just before reaching Northeast Florida. But it still caused massive damage, flooding and erosion.

For those who didn’t see the video or want to see it again, click the play button, above.