Anxious wait for US east coast as Hurricane Matthew hits Caribbean
Anxious Florida residents have cleared supermarket shelves while North Carolina called for the evacuation of three barrier islands as Hurricane Matthew threatens a large swathe of the US east coast.
The most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade roared across the Caribbean on Tuesday, slamming into the south-western tip of Haiti.
Winds reaching 145mph tore off roofs in the poor and largely rural area of the island, uprooting trees and leaving rivers bloated and choked with debris.
At least seven deaths have been blamed on the storm during its week-long march across the Caribbean.
The dangerous Category 4 storm blew ashore around dawn in the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, hitting a corner of Haiti where many people live in shacks of wood or concrete blocks.
Damage appeared to be widespread, but because of poor communications, blocked roads and washed-out bridges, the full extent of the damage or the number of casualties is not immediately clear.
The country's Civil Protection Agency said many homes were damaged or destroyed, and people had to wade through flooded streets to rescue their belongings and find higher ground.
The centre of the storm is projected to pass about 50 miles north-east of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
While it is too soon to know if it will make a direct hit on Florida or somewhere else along the US coast, Matthew is expected to create dangerous conditions.
A hurricane watch is in place for parts of Florida, which is already experiencing bands of rain from the storm.
Florida governor Rick Scott met emergency officials along the coast, starting out in the Keys and travelling north. At a news conference in Daytona Beach, he noted that the storm's predicted path can change quickly.
"We can rebuild your home, we can rebuild your business. We can't rebuild your life," Mr Scott warned.
A tropical storm watch was issued from Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys to Deerfield Beach, north of Fort Lauderdale. A hurricane watch is in place further north.
"We are preparing for the worst, hoping for the best and not taking any chances," Mr Scott said, as he visited emergency management officials in the Florida Keys.
The governor urged residents along the Interstate 95 motorway corridor to start making preparations, which include having at least a three-day supply of water, food and medicine.
He also asked residents to comply with any evacuation orders from local officials as the week progresses.
"Make sure you have a fully charged cellphone," Mr Scott said. "If we lose power, you cannot charge your cellphones."
Mr Scott also noted that many people have moved to South Florida since Hurricane Wilma hit as a Category 3 storm in 2005.
Matthew briefly reached the top classification, Category 5, becoming the strongest hurricane in the region since Felix in 2007.
US president Barack Obama was updated on the path of Hurricane Matthew and its potential impact in the Caribbean and the United States, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Federal officials have been deployed to state emergency operations centres in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina and relief supplies have been sought in the region.
North Carolina governor Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency, in part to immediately help farmers clear their fields of crops already affected by heavy rain over the last two weeks.
He said he does not want other crops ruined, so restrictions on truck weights and hours of service would be lifted under the emergency declaration to allow farmers to take their harvest to market.
At Cape Lookout National Seashore in North Carolina, superintendent Patrick Kenney said more than 100 trucks were being taken off the island and about 45 cabins were being cleared.
Ferry operators told Mr Kenney it will take two days to evacuate everyone, meaning the islands should be empty sometime on Wednesday.