Hurricane Irma strengthened back into a Category 5 storm Friday night as it made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago of Cuba with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.
But the Bahamas had largely been spared after Irma changed track.
Irma's status as a Category 4 storm was relatively short-lived, having been downgraded from a Category 5 storm early Friday morning.
This is the first time a category five hurricane has hit Cuba in decades.
A hurricane warning is currently in effect in the provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Matanzas.
As of 2 a.m. ET, Irma was about 275 miles south-southeast of Miami and moving about 12 mph toward the west, the National Hurricane Center said.
Hurricane Irma remains forecast to hit the Florida Keys as a Category 5 storm. It is expected to hit Florida on Sunday.
In Florida, 5.6 million people, or 25% of the US state's population, had been told to leave as the storm approaches. At least 20 people are known to had died so far across the Caribbean.
Florida Governor Rick Scott said all Floridians should be prepared for possible evacuation, and issued a stark warning to those in threatened areas.
"We are running out of time. If you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now," he told reporters.
The governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, issued a state of emergency on Friday night ahead of a category 5 storm that is nearing the Atlantic coast.
"By declaring a full State of Emergency we are ensuring that all resources and personnel are in place to respond, in the event they are needed here in Alabama or elsewhere," Ivey said in a statement.
Hurricane Irma carries maximum sustained winds of 160 miles per hour. It was upgraded to the highest level on the scale as it made landfall in northern Cuba hours ago. The storm is considered to be the worst in a decade.
Irma is predicted to begin affecting Alabama late this weekend and into the beginning of next week. The governor said that although the state did not appear to face the brunt of the storm, which is going to come ashore in Florida, authorities continued to closely monitor its path.
The death toll continued to rise on Friday in the Caribbean.
France's Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said nine people were dead and seven missing in the French territory on St Martin, an island shared with the Netherlands, and St Barthélemy.
Another death - the second - has been confirmed in the Dutch territory of Sint Maarten.
French officials said six out of 10 homes on Saint-Martin were so badly damaged that they were uninhabitable.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team