Hurricane Charley has slammed into the coast of Florida, ripping up
trees and forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of residents.
The hurricane was stronger than expected
Packing winds up to 145mph (230km/h), Charley hit land on the Gulf coast south of Tampa, causing a tidal surge of up to 15 feet (4.6m).
A woman and a young girl were killed in separate traffic accidents in Florida, and at least three people died in Cuba.
The authorities say they have evacuated 1.4 million people from at-risk areas.
Thousands of National Guard troops have been put on standby.
"This is the nightmare scenario that we've been talking about for years," said hurricane centre director Max Mayfield.
Charley reached landfall at 1550 (1950 GMT) on Friday, just south-west of Fort Myers, and about 160 miles (257km) south-east of the Tampa Bay area, the most populous region on Florida's west coast.
Winds ripped off the roof of a hurricane shelter where more than 1,000 people were seeking refuge, while small planes at the airport in Charlotte County were torn apart.
Walt Disney World theme park in Orlando was closed while flights were halted at Orlando airport.
Ten navy ships stationed near Jacksonville were sent out to sea, the navy said.
"This is a serious, serious storm," said Florida Governor Jeb Bush, estimating the cost of repairs at more than $15bn.
President George W Bush has declared the region a federal disaster area, which means federal funds can be spent on the clean-up.
"Our prayers are with you and your families tonight," he said from Seattle.
Before reaching land, the hurricane increased to "category four" - the second most severe on the five-level Saffir-Simpson hurricane intensity scale.
Residents along Florida's south-western coast had been boarding up their homes and stocking up on water, tinned food and batteries.
"There is not much that scares me in this world, but this is one of them," said one of them.
Schools and government offices were closed on Friday.
Meteorologists say this could be the worst storm to hit the US since 1992 when Hurricane Andrew caused billions of dollars worth of damage in Miami.
At least three people died when the hurricane passed over western Cuba on Friday.
Charley has also been blamed for one death in Jamaica on Thursday.
In a rare gesture, the US offered Cuba $50,000 (about £28,000) to help pay for damage caused by the hurricane.