Hurricane Ian has made landfall on Florida’s Gulf coast, pummeling the shore with 150mph winds, sparking catastrophic flooding and knocking out power for thousands of homes.
The first impact came in Cayo Costa, around 100 miles south of Tampa, the National Hurricane Centre reported.
In nearby Fort Myers, dramatic photographs and videos showed houses already underwater and cars floating down the streets.
In Naples, further to the South, lashing winds downed power transformers which exploded as they hit the ground and sparked small fires.
Already, one million people are without power.
The category four hurricane - which is just 2mph shy of being a category five - is anticipated to be particularly devastating because of a deadly combination of wind speed, rainfall and storm surge.
Gusts of up to 190mph are likely to down trees and spread debris over a large area.
Catastrophic storm surges could push 12 to 18 feet (3.6 to 5.5 metres) of water across more than 250 miles of coastline. Adding to the misery, as much as 24 inches of rainfall is expected in the next 48 hours.
'Please hunker down'
"This is going to be a nasty, nasty day, two days," Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said.
"It's going to get a lot worse very quickly, so please hunker down."
More than 2.5 million people were under mandatory evacuation orders, but by law no one could be forced to flee. The governor said the state has 30,000 linemen, urban search and rescue teams, and 7,000 National Guard troops from Florida and elsewhere ready to help once the weather clears.
US President Joe Biden promised Floridians: “We'll be there every step of the way,” as the federal government sent 300 ambulances with medical teams to the west coast of the state.
Orlando airport ceased operating on Wednesday morning, while Tampa’s airport closed on Wednesday night.
Residents fear catastrophic floods
Earlier on Wednesday, The Telegraph visited St Petersburg, on the Gulf Coast, where police were stopping non-residents from getting to the shoreline.
Even a few hours before the hurricane hit, palm tree branches had been ripped off trees by powerful gusts.
Naples. Houses are moving pic.twitter.com/nFVY9oP1y4
— reallyryanbush (new acct) (@reallyryanbush) September 28, 2022
Standing near a Tampa Bay pier earlier on Wednesday, Ash Dugney said he didn't trust the city’s storm drainage system to keep his tuxedo rental business safe from flooding.
"I don't care about the wind and the rain and stuff like that, I just care about the flooding," he said, adding that he moved essentials out of the shop and moved other items up to above waist-high level.
Within half an hour of the hurricane making landfall, some power in Tampa was already out.
Before Ian hit shore in Florida, it passed over Cuba, where the entire power grid was knocked out, leaving 11 million people in the dark.
As hurricane conditions spread, forecasters warned of a looming once-in-a-generation calamity.
Ian could already have had deadly consequences off the coast as the US Border Patrol said 23 migrants were missing after their boat sank. Four Cubans who survived swam to shore in the Florida Keys.