UPDATE: Hurricane Michael, now a Category 3 storm, was crossing into southeastern Alabama and southwest Georgia late Wednesday afternoon while still thrashing the Florida Panhandle with rain and wind. The hurricane made landfall as a Category 4 storm near Mexico Beach, Fla., about midday Wednesday. As the day wore on, Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted to residents, “I urge all Floridians in the Panhandle to continue sheltering in place, and [listen] to local authorities. Stay inside until directed further so that our recovery teams can move in as quickly as possible.” Emergency responders asked people to stay off the roads, and Scott assured residents that thousands of workers were ready to assist with rescue, aid, and restoring power. The National Hurricane Center reported flooding along coastal areas and dangerous surf conditions.
Meanwhile, the National Weather Service issued an extreme wind warning for several Alabama and Georgia counties as Michael approached. “Michael will continue to produce life-threatening hurricane-force winds well inland,” the National Hurricane Center said in a statement. The storm is expected to turn northeast and bring rain and wind to Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia through Thursday before moving out into the Atlantic Ocean.
UPDATE (1:51 p.m.): Hurricane Michael intensified as it made landfall near Mexico Beach, Fla., midday Wednesday. The National Hurricane Center said the Category 4 storm had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, just 2 mph shy of being a Category 5 hurricane. Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted that hundreds of first responders were ready to deploy and aid residents as soon as the storm passed. President Donald Trump was briefed on the storm Wednesday and tweeted, “We are with you Florida!”
As Michael passes over Florida, the Federal Emergency Management Agency says Georgia residents should prepare to get pummeled by the storm next. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said the hurricane is expected to inflict serious damage in the central and southern parts of the state and devastate the region’s peanut, pecan, and cotton crops. FEMA administrator Brock Long warned Georgians to follow authorities’ directions for evacuating and taking shelter, saying, “People are going to die as a result of not heeding the warnings.”
OUR EARLIER REPORT (11:10 a.m.): Hurricane Michael grew to a Category 4 storm early Wednesday morning as it moved closer to the Florida Panhandle, with landfall expected midday Wednesday. The storm, with winds topping out at 145 mph, could be the most powerful storm on record to hit the region. Forecasters say Michael could dump up to a foot of rain and cause a 14-foot storm surge in places. The National Hurricane Center was already reporting rising water levels and high winds along the Florida coast at 8 a.m., and some coastline towns already have experienced flooding.
“The time to evacuate has come and gone ... SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted Wednesday morning. Scott had earlier expressed concern that people had ignored evacuation orders. The sheriff in Bay County, Fla., issued a shelter-in-place order for the Panama City area before dawn. More than 375,000 people in 22 Florida counties along the Gulf Coast have been warned to evacuate.
Drawing strength from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Michael quickly grew from a Category 2 storm Tuesday afternoon to a Category 4 overnight. At 8 a.m. Wednesday, the eye of the storm was about 90 miles southwest of Panama City and moving at 13 mph, with tropical storm–force winds extending 185 miles out from its center. The storm is powerful enough that forecasters expect it to remain a hurricane as it passes through Georgia early Thursday, and it is expected to bring strong winds and heavy rain to the Carolinas, an area still recovering from Hurricane Florence. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency for his state Wednesday morning.
Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator Brock Long said his agency had nearly 3,000 people in the field ready to assist with the effects of the storm.
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