Miami, Oct 7: Florida is facing the most dangerous storm in living memory as Hurricane Matthew barrels in from the Atlantic threatening coastal cities with surging tides, torrential rain and 130 mile-an-hour winds.

After cutting a deadly swath across the Caribbean and leaving at least 283 dead in Haiti, the Category Four storm was to crash up against the southeastern US early Friday. Over the course of the day it will scour its way up a 600-mile (965-kilometer) strip of coast from Boca Raton in Florida to just north of Charleston, South Carolina, driving seawater and heavy rain inland.

Only a handful of hurricanes of this strength have ever made landfall in Florida, and none since 1898 has threatened to scythe its way north along low-lying, densely populated coast into Georgia and beyond. Evacuation orders were issued for areas covering at least three million residents and major cities like Jacksonville, Florida and Savannah, Georgia lay in the path of the terrible storm.

This storm is a monster. I want everybody to survive this. We can rebuild homes. We can rebuild businesses... We can’t rebuild a life.
Florida’s Governor Rick Scott

Daytona Beach imposed a curfew that was to last until dawn tomorrow, and President Barack Obama declared emergencies in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, promising federal aid. As the first bouts of heavy rain and powerful gusts arrived at seafront resorts presaging the storm beyond, more than 90,000 homes and businesses in Florida had lost power. Matthew has already battered Haiti, Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Bahamas and US officials are taking no chances, warning that loss of life is a virtual certainty.

"This storm is a monster," declared Florida's Governor Rick Scott. "I want everybody to survive this. We can rebuild homes. We can rebuild businesses... We can't rebuild a life. Matthew was churning over the ocean 50 miles off Grand Bahama Island at 11:00 pm yesterday (local time) and heading towards Florida and South Carolina at 13 miles per hour. By 2:00 am today it is expected to be off Port St Lucie, threatening Florida's beaches and ports with sustained winds of up to 130 miles-per-hour and gusts of up to 160. And when you get the wind you will get immediate flooding, strong rip current, beach erosion. The risk of tornados, Scott warned. Think about this: 11 feet (3.3 meters) of possible storm surge. And on top of that, waves. So if you are close, you could have the storm surge and waves over your roof. Highways were jammed with people streaming inland to escape the storm, forecast to be strong enough to snap trees and blow away roofs or entire houses. As US gas stations ran dry, frantic shoppers flocked to stores for batteries, transistor radios, bread, canned goods, bottled water, ice and pet food.

Highways in Florida and neighboring states clogged up with people streaming inland to escape the storm. President Barack Obama yesterday declared a federal state of emergency in Florida as it braced for the ferocious Category Four hurricane. Poor and vulnerable Haiti remained essentially cut in half two days after Matthew hit. Interior Minister Francois Anick Joseph said at least 108 Haitians have died, with 50 killed in a single town and reports of complete destruction in the island's south. In its latest target, the storm slammed the Bahamas yesterday.

According to the forecast track, the hurricane could make landfall today in the United States near Cape Canaveral, where NASA's Kennedy Space Center is located. As US gas stations ran dry, frantic shoppers flocked to stores for essentials. Matthew regained power as it swirled toward the US coast, upgraded a notch to Category Four yesterday by the National Hurricane Center on its 1-5 scale. In Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, the normally bustling resort turned into a ghost town as tourists loaded up cars, cut short vacations and fled north.

Despite the mass flight, officials warned a worrying number of people were not heeding the evacuation order. People do not seem to get it and are not leaving, Sheriff William D. Snyder from Martin County, Florida, told NBC News. Some 1.5 million coastal dwellers are under an evacuation order in Florida alone.

More than a million others in South Carolina and other coastal states were also told to escape the path of the storm, which first made landfall in Haiti Tuesday. Mandatory evacuations were also ordered in six coastal counties in Georgia that are home to some 520,000 people. Miami International Airport canceled 90 percent of its incoming and outgoing flights yesterday. Both presidential candidates sent out messages of support to those affected, with Republican Donald Trump saying Please stay safe while Democrat Hillary Clinton urged people to heed evacuation orders, tweeting: Stay safe Florida.

The National Hurricane Center said waves whipped up by the hurricane could reach as high as 18 feet (5.5 meters) -- nearly as tall as a two-story building. Debris tossed into the air will be capable of blasting through buildings and cars, the NHC said in a bulletin. Scott said the forecast is for storm surges of five to nine feet (1.5 to 2.7 meters), not counting the waves on top of that. As Matthew barreled northwest, Caribbean nations continued the grim task of assessing damage and fatalities, with four dead in the Dominican Republic in addition to the surging toll in Haiti. In Cuba, where some 1.3 million people were evacuated, there were no reported fatalities.

--AFP