Evacuations ordered as Florida braces for Hurricane Michael

Panovich: Hurricane Michael will bring heavy rain to the Carolinas

JUST IN: Tropical Storm Nadine forms, Michael wind speeds up to 110 mph

Forecasters said they expect Hurricane Michael to strengthen into a major storm by the time it makes landfall along the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday.

Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect in Panama City Beach and other low-lying areas in the storm's path.

By 8 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 85 miles per hour (140 kph) as it headed north at 12 miles per hour (19 kph).

The center warned heavy rain, unsafe winds and life-threatening storm surges were possible across Western Cuba on Monday as winds picked up speed on the Gulf Coast. "The center of Michael is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday".

Some parts of Florida could see storm surges of nine to 13ft and up to a foot of rain.

Hurricane Michael is coming. "We wish all our guests who are traveling back home a safe journey". Forecasters said Michael could be near a very unsafe Category 4 by landfall, with further strengthening expected overnibght. If Michael's forecast proves right, there's a 95 percent chance the area's dunes will be flooded by storm waters.

A fast-strengthening Hurricane Michael swept toward the Florida panhandle Tuesday afternoon, causing Governor Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency for 35 counties. A storm goes to Category 4 with sustained winds stronger than 130 miles per hour.

By 11 a.m., Michael had winds of 110 miles per hour, just below a major Category 3 hurricane, and was getting stronger, drawing energy from Gulf waters in the mid-80s.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday, but instead threw himself into helping his city's residents fill sandbags and get their storm preparations completed.

Panovich: Hurricane Michael will bring heavy rain to the Carolinas

"We are now under an emergency mandatory evacuation for Panama City Beach as of 6 a.m. this morning due to Hurricane Michael", management of the Holiday Inn Resort on Front Beach Road said on the hotel's Facebook page.

There is also a large ridge of high pressure off the southeastern US coast, and this feature is pushing Michael toward the northwest.

The storm is expected to undergo rapid intensification again Tuesday. "You have rain, you have wind - but storm surge, that's a lot of water that can come onshore", said David Peaton, the assistant director of emergency management in Levy County, in an interview with local station WUFT.

Roads could be blocked, trees uprooted and power cut for days in what could be the strongest storm seen in the region since Hurricane Dennis in 2005. Areas east of Columbus, including central Georgia, are in a zone of 4 to 6 inches, with heavier amounts higher depending upon the location of persistent rain bands as remnants of Hurricane Michael move toward the northeast.

State officials also issued disaster declarations in Alabama and Georgia, both of which are also expected to feel the impact from the storm.

North Carolina and SC will likely see heavy rainfall, which could cause flooding in areas already damaged by last month's Hurricane Florence.

"The state Emergency Response Team has been holding regular calls with the fuel industry and ports in Florida to ensure they can get gas to the area safely", Scott said. The sheriff's office says Michael "has the potential to be a historic storm - please take heed".

The threat of rising water prompted Pasco County emergency officials to recommend voluntary evacuations for residents west of USA 19 vulnerable to potential storm surge, special needs residents and anyone in low-lying areas.

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