PANAMA CITY, Oct 10 (BBC): Hurricane Michael has been upgraded to an "extremely dangerous" category four storm, hours before it is due to make landfall in Florida.
The storm has sustained winds of 140mph (220km/h) and was due to make landfall at about midday (16:00 GMT).
More than 370,000 people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate and move to higher ground.
At least 13 people reportedly died in Central America over the weekend as a result of storm rains and floods.
Florida has declared a state of emergency, as have Alabama and Georgia.
In its latest bulletin, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Michael had become "an extremely dangerous" hurricane.
It warned of a life-threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall along the north-eastern Gulf coast.
Michael, it added, could see some additional strengthening before it made landfall in the Florida Panhandle - a strip of land bordering the Gulf of Mexico - or the Big Bend area to its east.
At 06:00 local time on Wednesday, the eye of Michael was about 105 miles south-west of Panama City, Florida.
The NHC warns that some regions of Florida may experience storm surges of up to 13ft (4m).
Michael is currently moving northwards at 13mph.
On the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, category four includes winds of up to 156mph with possible severe damage to even well-built homes and trees being felled.
"Weakening is expected after landfall as Michael moves across the south-eastern United States," the NHC added.
Florida Governor Rick Scott called Michael "monstrous storm" and urged residents to listen to officials.
Despite the warnings, local officials believe a far smaller number of people have in fact moved away.
Schools and state offices in the area are to remain shut this week.
On Tuesday, Gov Scott said he had activated 2,500 Florida National Guard troops.
Heavy rains are forecast for the Carolinas, which were drenched by Hurricane Florence last month.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told residents: "I know people are fatigued from Florence, but don't let this storm catch you with your guard down."
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for the state, freeing up federal funds for relief operations and providing the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
State officials issued disaster declarations in Alabama and Georgia, both of which are also expected to feel the impact from the storm.
About 120,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders in Bay County in the Panhandle, a low-lying area of beachfront resorts and retirement communities.
In other areas, residents of mobile homes were urged to leave.
Michael was forecast to have the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days when it hits Florida. It is expected to weaken as it moves up into the southeastern United States.
Drivers waited in long lines at gas stations and residents hurried to fill sandbags.
Tolls were suspended on some roads to aid movement ahead of the storm's landfall.
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