Two million people have been warned to evacuate as Hurricane Matthew bears down on Florida after wreaking havoc in the Caribbean.
Matthew was responsible for at least 339 deaths after ripping through Haiti and the Dominican Republic this week.
Now the fiercest Caribbean storm in nearly a decade has strengthened as it barrels towards the southeastern United States. It has been upgraded from a category three to a category four hurricane, with winds of up to 220km/h.
The hurricane has begun to make landfall, with the outer bands reaching the Florida coast and pelting it with heavy rains and catastrophic winds.
The National Hurricane Centre extended its hurricane warning area farther north into South Carolina and more than 12 million US residents were under hurricane watches and warnings, according to the Weather Channel.
Florida Governor Rick Scott warned people to prepare themselves for the deadly storm.
“If you’re reluctant to evacuate, just think about all the people who have been killed,” Scott told a news conference on Thursday. “Time is running out.”
“We have to be prepared to be hit by a catastrophic hurricane.”
Governor Scott said the evacuation, which spread across Orlando, Jacksonville and South Carolina, could be the “biggest ever”.
Shelters in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have been opened for evacuees. Schools and airports across the region are closed and some hospitals evacuated.
According to the New York Times, at least 7800 National Guard soldiers had been placed on alert by Thursday local time.
Outgoing President Barack Obama, who cancelled a planned visit to Florida on Wednesday, said Matthew could have “a devastating effect”. He has declared a state of emergency.
“Even if you don’t get the full force of the hurricane, we are still going to be seeing tropical-force winds, the potential for a storm surge,” he told media.
Supplies being snatched up
The more-prepared residents had almost rid department store Walmart of water and nappies by Thursday, according to the NY Times.
Meanwhile, AP reported many petrol stations were displaying “out of gas” signs after desperate motorists filled their tanks and roads were jammed as residents headed evacuation warnings.
Any takers? The bread aisle at a local Publix. pic.twitter.com/fdbjAc7A7p
— Lizette Alvarez (@LizetteNYT) October 5, 2016
Disney is shuttering its theme parks and other attractions in Orlando. It is the fourth time the Magic Kingdom has been closed since it opened in 1971, and each time it was because of an impending hurricane.
Deadly history of hurricanes in the US
Hurricane Katrina (2005)
Katrina left 1800 people dead and was the costliest storm in US history with damage estimated at $US108 billion ($A142 billion). It was a Category 3 storm when it made landfall over Louisiana.
Great New England Hurricane (1938)
Roughly 700 people died in the Great New England Hurricane (1938).
It raked the region as a Category 3 storm and wiped out railroad tracks, utilities, homes, crops and the fishing industry.
The Great Okeechobee Hurricane (1928)
Okeechobee struck Florida as a Category 4 storm, leaving more than 2500 dead.
Lake Okeechobee overflowed, causing disastrous flooding that inundated several communities.
Galveston, Texas (1900)
A hurricane made landfall in Galveston, Texas with winds estimated to be at least 209 km/h and a storm surge of a whopping 4.5 metres.
Some 8000 people died, and damage estimates exceeded $A26 million at the time – roughly $A923 million in today’s dollars.