Hurricane Matthew roars to Category 4 as it barrels toward Florida - Emirates24|7

Hurricane Matthew roars to Category 4 as it barrels toward Florida

Hurricane Matthew has strengthened to a catastrophic Category 4 storm as it barrels toward the heavily populated coast of Florida.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the storm's maximum sustained winds had strengthened to 140 mph as of late Thursday morning and were expected to maintain their strength as the storm approaches the Florida coast.

Hurricane conditions were also still affecting the Bahamas. The storm was expected to start affecting Florida by early afternoon Thursday.

Gov. Nikki Haley says parts of two counties along South Carolina's northern coast are being evacuated ahead of Hurricane Matthew.

Haley told reporters Thursday morning evacuation orders go into effect at noon Thursday for parts of Horry and Georgetown counties.

Haley warned anyone in an evacuation zone not to take the orders lightly. She says surge from the storm could be as high as 8 feet and affect not only the coast but also areas farther inland.

So far, Haley says 175,000 people have evacuated from the coast. On Wednesday, the state reversed the eastbound lanes of Interstate 26 from Charleston to Columbia, allowing more motorists to move inland at once.

Forecasters say they expect Matthew to strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane before making landfall in Florida, turning north and passing just off the South Carolina coast late Friday or early Saturday.