Monstrous Hurricane Michael tears into Florida

Early Wednesday morning track of Michael

NOAA Early Wednesday morning track of Michael

Widespread power outages are expected to stretch from parts of the Florida panhandle up through Georgia as well as the Carolinas, but anyone within reach of the storm's rapid winds should be prepared to be without power at some point over the next few days.

Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle Wednesday as the most powerful storm to strike the USA mainland in 50 years.

Michael had weakened to a Category 1, with maximum winds of 90 miles per hour as of 8:00 pm Eastern time (0000 GMT), but that still left it an extremely unsafe storm.

After making landfall near Mexico Beach around 2 p.m. ET, the eye of Michael moved inland over the Florida Panhandle east of Panama City.

Trees and wires are down throughout Florida Gulf Coast towns.

"Hurricane Michael is a deadly Category 4 storm". Storm surge could reach heights of 6 feet to 9 feet from the Okaloosa-Walton County line to Mexico Beach and from Keaton Beach to Cedar Key.

Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles. "We're going to get some people hurt".

"Storms like that are referred to in hushed tones", said Phil Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specializes in Atlantic Ocean hurricane forecasts.

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And tornado warnings radiated out into counties near the hurricane's path in Georgia on Tuesday evening, after reports of at least two that had formed in Florida.

"We are catching some hell", said Timothy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their second-floor apartment in Panama City Beach.

On the forecast track, the eye of Michael is expected to move ashore over the Florida Panhandle later today near Panama City, move northeastward across the southeastern USA tonight and Thursday, and then move off the Mid-Atlantic coast away from the US on Friday. It had sustained winds of 155 mph, meaning it wasn't from a Category 5 storm - a Category 4 hurricane has sustained winds of up to 156 mph, and Category 5 is 157 mph and above.

Even before Michael made full landfall, it was whipping trees with its winds and had caused flooding in the town of Apalachicola, where more than 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water was reported, and about 20 miles away (32 km) in Port St. Joe. It moved so fast that people didn't have much time to prepare, and emergency authorities lamented that many ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out. The hurricane hit the Florida Panhandle as a category 4 storm.

"We are in new territory", U.S. National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen wrote on Facebook.

The National Weather Service office in Tallahassee issued a dramatic appeal for people to comply with evacuation orders. It set off transformer explosions and knocked out power to more than 388,000 homes and businesses.

Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

In the case of Michael the damage will be mainly from wind rather than rain.

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