President Obama on Friday cautioned against assuming the worst of Hurricane Matthew had passed, noting that storm surges and the northward trajectory of the storm could still affect populated areas in the U.S.
"While we've seen some big damage in portions of south Florida, I think the biggest concern at this point is not just hurricane-force winds, but storm surge," Obama told reporters after his daily briefing in the Oval Office.
"Those of you who live in Georgia should be paying attention," he added, "because there's been a lot of emphasis on Florida, but this thing is going to keep moving north."
Obama noted that people had initially thought the impact of Superstorm Sandy would not be as severe as projected, only to see a massive storm surge inundate northeastern communities.
"I want to emphasize that this is still a really dangerous hurricane," Obama said. "People need to continue to follow the instructions of their local officials."
Obama urged people in the Southeast to evacuate if instructed to do so.
"We can always replace property," he said. "But we can't replace lives."
The death toll related to Hurricane Matthew hit 11 in the southeastern U.S. on Saturday as the Category 1 storm barreled up the coast.
North Carolina saw three deaths, Gov. Pat McCrory said.
In Georgia, three people were killed. A 28-year-old man died when a tree fell and crushed his vehicle and another man died when two trees fell on his home, according to Bulloch County deputy coroner Richard Plyant. Another man also died when a tree fell on his house in Chatham, according to police.
Five deaths were reported in Florida, where Matthew left about 1 million people without power.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said Saturday that no deaths had been reported in her state, but more than 437,303 utility customers lost power and about 6,600 residents remained in shelters after the storm dropped 14 inches of rain on some parts along the coast.
President Barack Obama spoke with the governors of four southeast states where Hurricane Matthew was wreaking destruction Saturday, the White House said.
Obama committed federal aid to Govs. Nathan Deal of Georgia, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Pat McCrory of North Carolina and Rick Scott of Florida. He had already declared emergencies in those states.
Matthew made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 storm at about 11 a.m. ET, according to the National Hurricane Center.
More than 437,303 customers across the state were without power, while 250,000 customers were also in the dark in coastal Georgia.
Many in North Carolina, especially in Cumberland County, were being urged to shelter in place as rain from the storm flooded roads and houses.
The Florida coast was not as hard-hit as anticipated, but four people in the state were killed and about 1 million were without power, Scott said.
"Storm surge related to Hurricane Matthew set a record, with measurements at Tybee Island showing 12.5 feet. The previous record was set in 1979 when Hurricane David pushed sea levels to 12.2 feet," Georgia's Chatham Emergency Management Agency said in a statement.
The eyewall of Hurricane Matthew scraped Georgia and South Carolina's shores early Saturday, bringing 70-to-90 mph wind gusts and major storm surges — but the forecast increasingly suggested the eye may not hit land.
“The actual center of circulation may not technically make landfall. Regardless of whether it makes landfall, the weather is going to the be the same," said Weather Channel meteorologist Michael Palmer.
It’s currently a Category 2 hurricane and is expected to weaken further, possibly to a Category 1 by Saturday night, when it will probably hit North Carolina, Palmer added.
The storm is expected to continue moving north-northeast, parallel to the coast, through Saturday.
Hurricane Matthew approached landfall in South Carolina early Saturday morning, bringing flash flooding, high winds and storm surges all along the South Carolina and Georgia coasts.
Forecasters predicted that Matthew could make landfall between Fripp Island and Isle of Palms in southern South Carolina. It was expected to near the coast in the southern portion of North Carolina by Saturday evening, according to the National Hurricane Center.
As of 5 a.m. ET, it was about 62 miles south-southwest of historic Charleston, South Carolina, and moving toward the north-northeast near 12 mph. The NHC reported maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, with gusts between 90 and 100 mph expected in Tybee Island off the northeast coast of Charleston County.
The eye of the hurricane brought dangerous conditions along the coast, with flash flooding, wind damage and storm surge posing serious threats to the area. The NHC continued to urge residents to stay indoors.