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Storm surge main worry as Matthew swirls

dpa logodpa 7/10/2016

The US National Hurricane Center says hurricane Matthew has been downgraded to a Category 2 storm.

The southeastern US states of Georgia and South Carolina are bracing for a record-setting tide as Hurricane Matthew spins along the country's southeastern coast after delivering a deadly punch to the Caribbean.

The storm weakened late on Friday to a category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 175 km/h, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Matthew has moved to about 215km south of Savannah, Georgia, one of four US states under a state of emergency, including evacuation orders for residents living near the coast.

Officials in the region said their biggest worry was a storm surge of as much as 3 metres of water that could be pushed onto land.

"There is a danger of life-threatening inundation during the next 36 hours along the Florida northeast coast, the Georgia coast, the South Carolina coast, and the North Carolina coast," the Miami-based hurricane centre said.

The centre said the eye of Matthew remained just kilometres offshore. It is forecast to continue moving near the coast of northeast Florida and on to Georgia through Friday night. It is expected to move on to the coast of South Carolina on Saturday, the centre said.

As Matthew turns along the Georgia and South Carolina coastlines, its anticlockwise winds are going to hit the shore and cause the surge, said Florida Senator Bill Nelson on CNN.

US President Barack Obama on Friday urged citizens to listen to local authorities, and warned that storm surge remained an ongoing threat.

The storm left about 600,000 homes in Florida without power. One of the hardest-hit areas in the state is Brevard County, located east of Orlando on Florida's coast, Governor Rick Scott said. About one-quarter of the homes without power were located there.

Millions of people have already evacuated coastal areas. Four deaths were reported in Florida, according to CNN.

As the storm moves northward, the devastation it caused earlier in the week is being realised, particularly in Haiti.

Matthew killed at least 283 people alone in the worst affected area of Department Sud, Radio Television Caraibes reported, citing local officials.

The international aid group CARE said the death toll in the country had reached 478, citing Haiti's Interior Ministry.

In the south-western city of Jeremie 80 per cent of homes have been damaged or destroyed, according to CARE spokeswoman Holly Frew.

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