Hurricane Matthew threatens fatal flooding from Florida to South Carolina -- and it hasn't even made landfall yet

Hurricane matthew floridaJoe Raedle/Getty ImagesWaves crash ashore as Hurricane Matthew approaches the area on October 6, 2016 in Singer Island, Florida. The hurricane is expected to make landfall sometime this evening or early in the morning as a possible Category 4 storm.

Hurricane Matthew is blasting Florida Friday morning. The part of the storm with the highest speed winds remains just off the eastern shore as the storm moves north.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) reports Matthew is a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour, down somewhat in power from the 140 mph Category 4 monster it was Thursday. However, this is still the most powerful storm to strike central or northern Florida in living memory, and continues to pose a severe flooding threat to much of Florida, as well as coastal Georgia and South Carolina.

As Al Jazeera reports, the scale of destruction in Haiti, which took a direct hit from Matthew, is devastating. The latest tallies put the death toll at 478, up from 339 just a couple hours earlier Friday morning. Many of the deaths were in small towns on the western end of the Tiburon peninsula — at least 50 in the single coastal town of Roche-a-Bateau  and 90 more in Chantal, per Al Jazeera’s report.

One person has been reported dead in Florida, according to ABC News, and 500,000 have lost power. Winds in excess of 100 mph have been recorded in Cape Canaveral.

The most severe danger remains the potential for a life-threatening storm surge, as the NHC reports. If Matthew’s eye wall, which contains its most intense winds, shifts toward land, it will push a wall of water ahead of it that could swamp coastal areas and overflow rivers. Fortunately, a landfall has grown less likely overnight.

Friday morning, the NHC continued to warn of the potential for a seven to 11 foot storm surge between Sebastian Inlet, Florida and Edisto Beach, South Carolina.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has been urging residents to flee areas under mandatory evacuation orders since Wednesday. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina also initiated evacuations along her state’s coastline.

Tammy Smith, a resident physician at in the University of Florida hospital system, described to Business Insider a controlled but hectic scene as evacuated patients arrived from low-lying medical centres along the Florida and Georgia coasts. Patients were cleared out of the intensive care unit to make room for the sudden influx of new arrivals.

WESH 2, a local NBC News affiliate in Florida, reports that people who ignored orders to evacuate now find themselves cut off from aid as they face the worst of the storm. At least one Merritt Island family described to emergency officials that the roof of their home “just flew off.”

Meteorologists are keeping an eye on Matthew as the threat of an inland wobble remains severe.

NOW WATCH: More than 300,000 people are without power as Hurricane Matthew strikes the East Coast

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.