Hurricane Matthew, carrying winds of 120 miles per hour (195 kph), lashed central Florida on Friday, hugging the Atlantic coast as it moved north and threatening more destruction. The storm left a devastated Haiti in its wake, with almost 900 dead and thousands homeless.
Matthew, the first major hurricane to hit the US head on in more than a decade, triggered mass evacuations along the coast from Florida through Georgia and into South Carolina and North Carolina. Its eyewall, containing the strongest winds, is expected to make landfall in Georgia overnight and in South and North Carolinas Saturday through Sunday.
US President Barack Obama and other officials urged people not to get complacent in the face of the deadly storm.
"I just want to emphasise to everybody that this is still a really dangerous hurricane, that the potential for storm surge, loss of life and severe property damage exists," Obama told reporters after a briefing with emergency management officials. "People continue to need to follow the instructions of their local officials over the next 24, 48, 72 hours."
He added that there has already been "significant damage" and storm surge as well as flooding are still major concerns.
"People should listen to their local officials," if they urge them to move away from storm surges, he said. "We can always replace property, but we cannot replace lives."
In Florida, the storm has left 800,000 people without power. No significant damage or injuries were reported in cities and towns in south Florida where the storm brought down trees and power lines, CNN and local media reported.
Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said he was concerned that relatively light damage in the south of Florida so far could give people farther up the coast a false sense of security.
"People should not be looking at the damages they're seeing and saying this storm is not that bad," Fugate told NBC.
"The real danger still is storm surge, particularly in northern Florida and southern Georgia. These are very vulnerable areas. They've never seen this kind of damage potential since the late 1800s," Fugate said.
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter scrapped plans to leave for Colombia on Saturday over concerns about Hurricane Matthew, including its impact on military facilities as it strikes the East Coast, the Pentagon said on Friday.
Hurricane Matthew killed almost 900 people and left tens of thousands homeless in its rampage through Haiti earlier this week before it lashed the US coast.
The number of fatalities in Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, surged to at least 877 on Friday as information trickled in from remote areas previously cut off by the storm, according to a Reuters tally of death tolls given by officials.
The US has sent military aid and USAID personnel to help in the aftermath, the White House said. These teams will work with local authorities in Haiti, Jamaica and the Bahamas to coordinate disaster relief.
Close to 150 people from the US Defense Department are in Haiti, according to White House spokesperson Eric Schultz.
Teams are distributing food and water and setting up first responder capabilities, he said.
The US military said USS Mesa Verda, a transport dock ship, was en route to Haiti to support relief efforts. The vehicle can produce fresh water and has water delivery vehicles aboard.