Florida prepares for worst as storm that killed 114 approaches its shores
US president Barack Obama has declared a state of emergency in Florida as Hurricane Matthew approaches with 140mph winds, leaving more than 100 dead in its wake across the Caribbean.
It is the most powerful storm to threaten the Atlantic coast in more than a decade.
"The storm has already killed people, and we should expect the same impact here," Florida Governor Rick Scott said as the skies began to darken from Matthew's outer bands of rain.
The enormous hurricane gained fury at it closed in, growing from a possibly devastating Category 3 storm to a potentially catastrophic Category 4 by late yesterday morning.
It was expected to scrape nearly the entire length of Florida's Atlantic coast from yesterday evening.
From there, forecasters said, it could push its way just off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina before then veering out to sea.
Around two million people in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina were told to head for safety, and interstate highways were turned into one-way routes to speed up the exodus.
Mr Scott said that Florida could be looking at its biggest evacuation ever.
Many boarded up their homes and businesses and left them to the mercy of the storm. Daniel Myras, who has lived for 25 years in Daytona Beach, where he owns the Cruisin Cafe two blocks from the boardwalk, struggled to find enough plywood to protect his restaurant.
"We're not going to take any chances on this one," he said.
"I have the feeling that this one is the one that makes Daytona realise that we need to get ready for storms.
"A lot of people here, they laugh, and say they've been through storms before and they're not worried. But I think this is the one that's going to give us a wake-up call."
As people hurried for higher ground, authorities in South Carolina said a motorist died on Wednesday after being shot by deputies in a gun battle that erupted after he sped away from a checkpoint along a storm evacuation route.
Matthew killed at least 114 people in the Caribbean as it roared through Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas.
Officials said at least 108 of those deaths were in desperately poor Haiti, where many towns were cut off by the storm and the magnitude of the death and destruction was just beginning to come into focus two days later.