Hurricane Matthew gained new fury as it hammered the central Bahamas, and forecasters say the life-threatening storm is expected to strengthen further as it approaches Florida's heavily-populated Atlantic coast.
Nearly two million people have been urged to evacuate their homes as the hurricane makes its devastating way towards Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Matthew remains a dangerous category three hurricane for now, but it is expected to regain status as an even more powerful category four storm in the coming hours. Top sustained winds ratcheted up from 115mph to 125mph overnight.
Matthew is the most powerful storm to threaten the Atlantic coast in over a decade, and has already killed at least 16 people as it cut through Haiti, Cuba and the Bahamas.
The storm is forecast to near the Florida coast on Thursday night, potentially as a category four storm with 130mph winds. Even if there is a slight deviation and the hurricane heads farther out to sea, forecasters say it will come close enough to wreak havoc along the lower part of the US east coast.
John Long, who lives in the Florida town of Cape Canaveral, is unconcerned and plans to stay in his motorhome about half a mile from the coast.
He said: "The hype is going to be worse than the actual storm. I feel I can do quite well."
But Florida governor Rick Scott is urging even the reluctant to evacuate their homes. "This is a dangerous storm," he said. "The storm has already killed people. We should expect the same impact in Florida."