Florida, Georgia and South Carolina are all under a state of emergency as Hurricane Matthew pummelled Florida early Friday morning.
According to the U.S. National Hurricane Centre, the storm could be the most powerful to strike northeast Florida in 118 years.
The Hurricane Center downgraded Matthew to a Category 3 storm overnight but warned that the “eye of extremely dangerous” storm was approaching Florida.
In its 5 a.m. bulletin, it said the hurricane was “moving parallel to and just offshore” of Florida’s east coast. The strongest winds were barely offshore, but Matthew’s wrath was clear to see along hundreds of miles of coastline.
Two million people were warned to flee inland as the most powerful storm to threaten the Atlantic coast in more than a decade charged toward Florida. Matthew left more than 300 dead in its wake across the Caribbean.
The deadly storm is projected to run parallel to the coast of the Sunshine State as it tracks closer to land over the next two days, producing a potentially devastating storm surge of up to 10 feet over an expanded swath of coast that stretches from central Florida up into South Carolina. The storm surge, coupled with up to 15 inches of rain expected in isolated spots, has officials fearing catastrophic flooding.
“This storm will kill you,” Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference, urging that “the time is now” to evacuate ahead of the storm. “This is life and death,” he added.
Florida Power & Light said approximately 307,000 homes and businesses were without power as of 5 a.m. EDT Friday. That number grew steadily overnight.
Officials urged millions of people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina to evacuate their homes, and interstate highways were turned into one-way routes to speed the exodus. Florida alone accounted for about 1.5 million of those told to clear out.
“If you’re reluctant to evacuate, just think of all the people this storm has already killed,” said Scott. “You and your family could be among these numbers if you don’t take this seriously.”
Orlando’s world-famous theme parks — Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and SeaWorld — all closed.
Haitians are bracing for a grim, rising death toll as help trickles into areas pummelled by Hurricane Matthew.
The storm was the strongest to hit the impoverished country in decades.
The death toll has risen above 300 in just one part of southwestern Haiti, but the overall death toll remains unclear.
50 people were reported killed in the town of Roche-a-Bateau alone. The nearby city of Jeremie saw 80% of its buildings levelled. In Sud province 30,000 homes were destroyed.
Officials say food and water are desperately needed, as the storm has devastated crops, destroyed water treatment plants and inundated wells with seawater.