Residents Prepare to Evacuate as Hurricane Michael Heads Toward Florida Panhandle

  • Residents Prepare to Evacuate as Hurricane Michael Heads Toward Florida Panhandle

Residents Prepare to Evacuate as Hurricane Michael Heads Toward Florida Panhandle

The storm is now a Category 3 storm packing winds of more than 120 miles per hour and is expected to grow even more potent before it makes landfall Wednesday, likely near Panama City Beach.

At least 120,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were ordered to clear out on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael rapidly picked up steam in the Gulf of Mexico and closed in with winds of 110 miles per hour and a potential storm surge of 12 feet.

Hurricane Michael would be the first major hurricane to hit the panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005, which made landfall near Pensacola, according to hurricane center data.

At a press conference in Citrus County Tuesday afternoon, Governor Rick Scott said the storm is expected to intensify as it approaches Florida's panhandle.

The state emergency web site listed mandatory evacuation orders for coastal or low-lying areas of nine counties: Bay, Dixie, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Levy, Okaloosa, Wakulla and Walton.

The National Hurricane Center predicted Tuesday that tropical-storm-force winds would probably arrive on the southern coast early Wednesday morning. "We want to get them out of the way".

Panama City's Bay County and other counties used their social media channels to alert residents about shelter openings.

University of Georgia's Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called it a "life-altering event" on Facebook and said he watched the storm's growth on satellite images with a pit growing in his stomach.

A hurricane warning was posted along more than 300 miles (483 km) of the coast from the Florida-Alabama border south to the Suwannee River.

In the dangerously exposed coastal town of Apalachicola, population 2,500, Sally Crown planned to go home and hunker down with her two dogs. Forecasters expected it to hit the coast later in the day and warned of devastating winds and unsafe storm surge of 12 feet or higher. "But in my experience, it's always blown way out of proportion".

Forecasters say the center of Michael will continue to move over the southern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday morning.

"We've been through this before", she said.

The governor has activated 2,500 Florida National Guard members and waived tolls in Northwest Florida.

FEMA is already on the ground in Florida; other federal agencies are also preparing to assist people in the storm's path.

Michael is not expected to be a reprise of Florence, which pummeled the state for several days, producing record rainfall and river flooding, and has been blamed on 40 deaths in the state. It warned of "widespread power outages, downed trees blocking access to roads and endangering individuals, structural damage to homes and businesses, isolated flash flooding and the potential for a few tornadoes".

"If you don't follow warnings from officials this storm could kill you", said Scott, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in November's congressional elections.