As deadly Hurricane Irma continues to show its terrifying force, those in Florida were last night bracing for the worst.

Late last night, authorities in the US announced the hurricane's ferocity had reached a Category 4 status - just hours before it was due to make landfall in Florida, Miami.

Local media were reporting more than 170,000 homes and businesses had already lost power and had brought in tornadoes and huge storm surges even before it had arrived.

Authorities estimated the hurricane would hit the area by about 7am on Monday (local time).

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Although many residents have fled, some have chosen to stick it out.

Among those is Tauranga man Dale Armit, who was at a pub in Tampa when the Herald called.

It was around midnight local time, and he said about 100 locals had packed into the bar, which was the only one open in the area.

"It's like a ghost town outside.

"On my walk over here I didn't see a single car, which is really quite strange because normally there'd be a couple of hundred pass on my way to the bar. It's quite nice."

Hurricane Irma, centre, approaches Cuba and Florida, with Hurricane Katia, left, in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo / AP
Hurricane Irma, centre, approaches Cuba and Florida, with Hurricane Katia, left, in the Gulf of Mexico, and Hurricane Jose, right, in the Atlantic Ocean. Photo / AP

Armit said half the people he knew were panicking and the other half were in the bar, drinking. It felt a little like Christmas, he said, waiting for something that had been expected for days.

Because of the erratic nature of the storm, he was not expecting to be in the line of fire until the morning and had run out of time to buy plywood for his windows.

However, he remained unfazed; saying he had a couple of internal bathrooms to shelter in if the windows blew.

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"It's my life goal to walk around in the eye of a storm. "I'm still a little bit too excited about it. Maybe I'm a bit naive."

Hurricane Irma will be the third major disaster to strike Kiwi Anna Wilding, a survivor of the Christchurch earthquakes and Hurricane Sandy.

She and her husband James Sved moved to Palm Beach, Florida, from Washington DC this week. So recently, in fact, that insurers refused to give them cover so close to the hurricane, leaving them in line for a financial hit as well.

"There will be losses, no doubt about it. And we're a block away from the Intracoastal, which is part lake, part ocean. Our biggest worry is flooding."

Near Fort Lauderdale in the east of the state, expats Shaun Lawrence and Caryn Haynes were also unconcerned.

"I've been through this before. It's going to be bad, but it won't be worse than anything else I've seen."

"I'm standing outside right now, and it's not that bad," agreed Lawrence.

"It's just like the worst thunderstorms in Auckland. I went to the supermarket yesterday before it closed, and everyone was buying water, whereas I was buying booze. I got looked at a little funny."

He said he couldn't understand why everyone was stocking up on bottled water when water was still available from the tap.

However, he was full of praise for the locals' behaviour.

"Florida's a very hustle-and-bustle, everyone out for themselves kind of place, but neighbours that usually don't talk to each other were going to other people's houses and asking if they needed help with their shutters, which I didn't expect at all."