Hurricane Matthew was “pounding” portions of the central Bahamas early Thursday after it tore through the Caribbean, causing severe damage and leaving at least 27 people dead.
The storm, which is expected to intensify as it moves northward towards the state of Florida, has prompted mass evacuations in US coastal areas.
Matthew, the worst storm to hit the Caribbean in nearly a decade, forced the closure of airports in the Bahamas, with cruise ships re-routed from the popular tourist destination, the government said.
“Seriously consider now moving to higher grounds,” Bahamian Prime Minister Perry Christie told southern coastal communities before the storm hit.
In its latest bulletin, the US-based National Hurricane Center reported that Matthew was “pounding portions of the central Bahamas” with winds up to 115 miles (185 kilometers) per hour.
US President Barack Obama warned Americans in the storm`s path to take the threat seriously.
“We hope for the best, but we want to prepare for the worst,” he said.
The storm slammed into Haiti and Cuba as a Category Four hurricane on Tuesday but has since been downgraded to three, on a scale of five, by the NHC. In the southeastern US state of Florida, where Matthew is expected to make landfall late Thursday, residents were calm.
“Everyone in our state must prepare now for a direct hit,” said Governor Rick Scott, as evacuation orders were issued.
Schools and universities closed for the rest of the week, authorities were distributing sandbags for doorways, and store shelves were bare.
“We`re not really afraid, Florida has been through this thing for years,” said Rick Basel, 63, a retiree loading his car with food and water to last three or four days.
Further north in South Carolina, Governor Nikki Haley ordered the evacuation of several coastal counties — with more than a million people affected.
The order included the historic city of Charleston, a tourist magnet boasting cobblestone streets lined with graceful antebellum homes.