With winds of 140 mph, it is powerful enough to rip up trees, destroy less well-constructed houses, and flood inland areas to a depth of 6 metres. It is a storm "as big as Texas", said one official, and it threatens to carve a swathe up the Atlantic coast, with worse yet to come.
Floyd has already ripped through the Bahamas, causing massive damage on several islands, although officials said it was hard to estimate the damage and casualties. It seemed to be heading towards South Carolina, having veered away from Florida and Georgia as it ambled northwards across the Atlantic. But the steady speed of its progress belied its strength.
Coastal residents were being evacuated from a 1,000-mile stretch of coastline from Florida to New York. "I cannot think of another evacuation that's on the scale of this one and as it moves up the coast there are going to be more people displaced," said a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Fearing the damage and loss of life, President Bill Clinton was preparing to cut short his trip to New Zealand and return to Washington. "My country is facing one of the most serious hurricanes ever to threaten the United States."
Florida seemed to have escaped the worst. The Kennedy Space Centre was undamaged, and Disney World in Orlando was set to reopen after the first closure in its history.
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