Hurricane Michael strengthens, Florida panhandle braces

FIRST ALERT Michael is now a hurricane expected to be major hurricane at landfall

Panovich: Hurricane Michael will bring heavy rain to the Carolinas

As Hurricane Michael's top winds reached 110 miles per hour Tuesday on its approach for a direct hit on the Florida Gulf Coast tourist community of Panama City Beach, the ultimate impact on inland portions of Alabama and Georgia, including the Columbus area, appeared to solidify. Panama City Beach - which is projected to experience a surge of 6 to 9 feet along its coast dotted with hotels, condos, restaurants and homes - issued a mandatory evacuation for specific areas near the coastline Tuesday morning.

The storm, moving northward at 12 mph, was about 255 miles south of Panama City, Florida, according to a 8 p.m. ET advisory from the National Hurricane Center (NHC).

Residents of Florida's Panhandle frantically filled sandbags, boarded up homes and secured boats Monday as they anxiously awaited Hurricane Michael, which forecasters warned could smash into the state's Gulf Coast as a risky major hurricane within days. NWS added that heavy rainfall from Hurricane Michael could produce life-threatening flash flooding from the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend region into portions of Georgia, the Carolinas and southeast Virginia. "On the forecast track, the center of Michael will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico through tonight", the agency said.

Hurricane Michael is coming.

Michael is predicted to become a category 3 storm, marked by torrential rains and winds in excess of 110 miles per hour. If Michael's forecast proves right, there's a 95 percent chance the area's dunes will be flooded by storm waters.

As the storm moved north it battered Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba with drenching rains and winds of up to 130km/h, forecasters said.

"Hurricane Michael poses a deadly threat", Scott said, warning that it could be the "most destructive storm to hit the Florida panhandle in decades".

Michael underwent a period of "rapid intensification" on Sunday and Monday, its winds strengthening by more than 35 miles per hour.

From left, Haskel Johnson, Daniel Tippett, Jennifer Tippett and Nobuko Johnson fill sand bags at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex in Lynn Haven, Fla., Oct. 8, 2018, to prepare for Hurricane Michael.

Hurricane Michael intensified into a Category 2 over warm Gulf of Mexico waters Tuesday amid fears it would strike Florida on Wednesday as an even stronger hurricane.

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The hurricane is expected to maintain at least tropical storm level strength as it crosses Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.

Florida Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency for 35 counties and activated hundreds of National Guard troops to prepare for Hurricane Michael's onslaught.

Scott on Monday expanded a state of emergency to a total of 35 Florida counties, the news release said.

Meanwhile, tropical storm warnings extended from Florida's Chassahowitzka River to the Mississippi-Alabama border. "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.

"Were looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than Ive seen in my 59 years of life".

He said: "We don't know if it's going to wipe out our house or not".

"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.

A year ago saw a string of catastrophic storms batter the western Atlantic - including Irma, Maria and Harvey, which caused a record-equaling $125 billion in damage when it flooded the Houston metropolitan area.

"This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed", the sheriff's office said in the post.

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