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Michael bears down on Florida as ‘potentially catastrophic’ Category 4 hurricane

Michael strengthens to Category 4 hurricane as it nears Florida coast - 1
Michael strengthens to Category 4 hurricane as it nears Florida coast - 1
Posted at 2:00 PM, Oct 10, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-10 13:37:13-04

(RNN) - Michael strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane early Wednesday, giving it the potential to be the first hurricane of that category or higher to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle, likely near Panama City.

The hurricane, which has maximum-sustained winds of 145 mph, is expected to strengthen even further, hours before its forecast landfall Wednesday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.

In its 8 a.m. update, the NHC said Michael was located 90 miles southwest of Panama City, FL, and was moving north at 13 mph.

Here are the 4 AM CDT Key Messages on #Michael pic.twitter.com/EzXC9XqIkC

— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) October 10, 2018

Michael is bringing a life-threatening storm surge, hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall to the northeastern Gulf Coast.

Residents of 13 Florida counties along the Panhandle and the west coast have been issued a mandatory evacuation order. Nine other counties have been issued voluntary or phased evacuation orders.

Many businesses in Panama City Beach, FL, were reportedly shuttered Tuesday evening as Michael neared.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott announced 34 shelters were opening across the state in preparation.

Landfall is expected Wednesday afternoon at the center of the Florida Panhandle.

It’s expected to produce a life-threatening storm surge for much of Florida and potentially Alabama’s coastlines. More than 300 miles of coastline from Mobile, AL, through the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend area are threatened, according to the NHC.

Mandatory evacuations have been ordered for the following Florida counties: Bay, Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Levy, Okaloosa, Taylor, Wakulla and Walton.

Voluntary or phased evacuations have been issued for these Florida counties: Calhoun, Hernando, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Pasco, Santa Rosa, Washington and Escambia.

Those in mobile homes or other weak structures in particular were urged to leave. Tolls were suspended in order to help people evacuate.

By Monday morning, generators were sold out in many Tallahassee-area stores, according to the Tallahassee Democrat. Residents also stocked up on food, water and gas.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott expanded a state of emergency declaration Tuesday to include 35 counties in preparation for the storm.

“This storm is dangerous, and if you don’t follow warnings from officials, this storm could kill you,” Scott said.

President Donald Trump has approved an emergency declaration for Florida, meaning that federal aid will be available to the state to assist in hurricane recovery.

The White House released a statement, saying: “FEMA is authorized to identify, mobilize, and provide at its discretion, equipment and resources necessary to alleviate the impacts of the emergency.”

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey declared a state of emergency for her state Tuesday because of expected widespread power outages and wind damage.

On Tuesday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 92 counties in anticipation of the hurricane-force winds and life-threatening flash floods Michael could bring to parts of the state.

A storm surge warning is in effect from the Okaloosa-Walton County line to the Anclote River in Florida. A storm surge watch is in effect for the Anclote River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay, and for the Alabama-Florida border to the Okaloosa-Walton County line.

“Water levels will rise well in advance of the center of Michael, and residents within the storm surge warning area should finish preparations to protect life and property today,” the NHC said Tuesday afternoon.

After making landfall, Michael is expected to cut a path across the Southeast, including North and South Carolina, states that are still recovering from Hurricane Florence in September. The storm is expected to hit parts of Alabama and Georgia before heading northward to Virginia and Maryland.

Heavy rainfall could produce life-threatening flash flooding from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region, into parts of Georgia, the Carolinas and southeast Virginia.

A hurricane warning has been issued from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border, from the Suwanee River to the Chassahowitzka River in Florida, and for Fernandina Beach, FL, to the South Santee River, SC.

A tropical storm watch is in effect along the southeastern coast of the U.S., from the Chassahowitzka River to Anna Maria Island in Florida, including Tampa Bay, the Mississippi-Alabama border to the mouth of the Pearl River, the South Santee River, SC, to Duck, NC, and for the Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds.

The Florida Panhandle and Big Bend areas, in addition to southern portions of Alabama and Georgia, are expected to receive as much as 12 inches of rain through Friday.

Eastern Georgia, the Carolinas and southern Virginia are expected to receive as much as 6 inches. The rains could bring life-threatening flash flooding.

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