Mass evacuations have been ordered as a ‘monstrous’ Hurricane Michael strengthened into a Category 2 storm with top wind speeds of 100 mph as it continued to intensify on its path toward the Florida Panhandle.
Michael was located about 395 miles south of Panama City, Florida as of 8am on Tuesday with authorities warning the ‘serious and life-threatening’ storm could grow to a Category 3 before it slams ashore on Wednesday.
Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the coast as the hurricane approaches.
Florida Governor Rick Scott called Michael a ‘monstrous hurricane’ with a devastating potential from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains. He declared a state of emergency for 35 Florida counties, from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, and activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members.
‘Hurricane Michael is a monster storm and it keeps getting more dangerous. We’re 12 hours away from seeing impacts. The time to prepare is now,’ Scott told a news conference on Tuesday.
‘The window of time to prepare is closing. This is a serious and life-threatening situation – don’t take any chances. If you have been told to evacuate, leave.’
Forecasters said Michael could potentially be the most powerful storm to strike the Panhandle in at least a decade. Parts of Florida’s Big Bend area could see up to 12 feet of storm surge, while Michael also could dump up to a foot of rain over some Panhandle communities as it moves inland.
Mass evacuations have been ordered as a ‘monstrous’ Hurricane Michael strengthened into a Category 2 storm on Tuesday with top wind speeds of 100 mph as it continued to intensify on its path toward the Florida Panhandle
Michael was located about 395 miles south of Panama City, Florida as of 8am on Tuesday with authorities warning the ‘serious and life-threatening’ storm could grow to a Category 3 before it slams ashore on Wednesday
Scott warned that people in potentially affected areas should not take any chances against such a large storm, adding that ‘no one’s going to survive’ such a wall of water.
The National Hurricane Center is predicting Michael to make landfall somewhere over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday.
The center warned residents along more than 300 miles of coastline, from the Alabama/Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida, to brace for hurricane conditions.
As much as 1 foot of rain was also forecast across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
The destructive force on the storm’s outer bands were felt out at sea on Monday night as passengers on board the Royal Caribbean’s Empress of the Seas filmed the ship being tossed around by strong winds.
Footage posted on Twitter by Snapper Tams showed the cruise ship caught up in the storm southwest of Isla de la Juventud in Cuba. He tweeted that the storm heavily delayed their arrival into Havana because the ship was forced to sit for several hours waiting for it to move through the Yucatán Channel.
The Florida governor declared a state of emergency in 35 counties along the Panhandle and Florida’s Big Bend regions. About 1,250 National Guard soldiers were assisting and more than 4,000 troops were placed on standby.
State offices, schools and universities were closed through the end of the week in Panhandle counties. Scott also warned caregivers at north Florida hospitals and nursing homes to do all possible to assure the safety of the elderly and infirm.
Lines at gasoline stations grew as people left and tolls were waived in a bid encourage evacuations. Residents who opted to stay emptied grocery store shelves of water and other supplies.
Bobby Smith boards up the windows at Jani’s Ceramics in Panama City, Florida on Monday in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Michael
People line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida outside Tallahassee on Monday
Michael was forecast to become a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 120 mph when it makes landfall in the Florida panhandle later this week
Michael was packing sustained winds of up to 85 miles per hour and gaining strength as it skirted past Cuba’s western tip en route to a likely Wednesday landfall as the most powerful storm to strike the Florida Panhandle in at least a decade
Tallahassee Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Andrew Gillum (left) helps Eboni Sipling fill up sandbags in Tallahassee
Residents of Lynn Haven, Florida fill sand bags at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex to prepare for Hurricane Michael on Monday
Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan bluntly advised residents choosing to ride it out that first-responders won’t be able to reach them while Michael smashes into the coast.
‘If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you’re now calling for help, there’s no one that can respond to help you,’ Morgan said at a news conference.
In the small Panhandle city of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson Sr. said the 2,300 residents were frantically preparing for what could be a strike unlike any seen there in decades.
Many filled sandbags and boarded up homes and lined up to buy gas and groceries before leaving town.
‘We’re looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I’ve seen in my 59 years of life,’ Johnson said of his city on the shore of Apalachicola Bay, which where about 90 percent of Florida’s oysters are harvested.
There will be no shelters open in Wakulla County, the sheriff’s office warned on Facebook, because they are rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 mph. With Michael’s winds projected to be even stronger, residents were urged to evacuate inland.
‘This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed,’ the sheriff’s office said in the post.
In Gulf County alone, the first to begin ordering residents of low-lying areas to higher ground, mandatory evacuation notices encompassed an estimated 3,800 homes, said Jessica Sasich of the county’s emergency operations center.
STORM SURGE PREDICTIONS
Indian Pass to Crystal River: 8-12 feet
Cedar Key to Crystal River: 6-8 feet
Okaloosa/Walton County line to Indian Pass: 5-8 feet
Crystal River to Anclote River: 4-6 feet
Anclote River to Anna Maria Island, including Tampa Bay: 2-4 feet
Alabama/Florida border to Okaloosa/Walton County line: 2-4 feet
Source: Washington Post
Many are located in the coastal town of Port St. Joe, the county’s largest municipality, lying directly in the hurricane’s projected path, she said.
In neighboring Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey declared an emergency for the entire state on Monday in anticipation of wind damage, heavy rains and power outages.
As the storm moved north it battered Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and western Cuba with drenching rains and winds of up to 80 mph.
Torrential downpours and flash-flooding over the weekend caused 13 deaths in Central America after Michael formed off the coast of northern Honduras.
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.
After striking Florida, Michael is forecast to move up the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday plowing through the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.
Energy companies halted nearly a fifth of Gulf of Mexico oil production and evacuated personnel from 10 platforms on Monday.
The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 per cent of daily U.S. crude oil output and 5 percent of daily natural gas output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
Alexander Charnicharo fishes at the seafront in Havana as Hurricane Michael passes by western Cuba on Monday
Cuban authorities decreed the first phase of the hurricanes protocol in five west provinces including Havana
People cover themselves from the rain before the arrival of Michael in Havana, Cuba on Monday