'Most destructive storm to hit the Florida panhandle in decades'

Hurricane Michael Latest track of storm

Michael is poised to make landfall on the Panhandle later Wednesday while pushing up to 13 feet of ocean water into the coast and drenching parts of three states in as much as a foot of rain.

Gaining frightening fury overnight, Hurricane Michael closed in Wednesday on the Florida Panhandle with potentially catastrophic winds of 145 miles per hour, the most powerful storm on record ever to menace the stretch of fishing towns, military bases and spring-break beaches.

The National Weather Service said Michael could produce life-threatening hazards along portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast, including storm surge, heavy rainfall, and hurricane-force winds.

The storm is likely also to dump prodigious amounts of rain over Florida, Alabama and Georgia as well as the Carolinas, which are still reeling from severe flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

A storm surge of up to 13 feet (four meters) is expected in some areas, the center said.

Florida residents are scrambling to flee their homes as Hurricane Michael bears down on the state.

Bar owner Dorothy White puts away outdoor furniture at Ouzts Too bar prior to the arrival of Hurricane Michael on Tuesday near Newport, Fla.

Hurricane Michael became a Category 3 storm with 120 miles per hour maximum sustained winds on October 9.

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Specifics will be ironed out as the storm gets closer. "Storm preparations should be rushed to completion today and Tuesday". You can catch the forecast on ABC 27 News starting at 5:00 each weekday morning, as well as ABC 27 News at Noon.

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This comes after a falling tree killed a woman and her baby in their home in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence in September.

Position: The hurricane was about 120 miles southwest of Panama City, Florida, as of 6 a.m. ET this morning, per CNN.

Residents who are considering leaving are encouraged to do so as early as possible. "I'm blessed to have a place to come", she told Reuters. About 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm preparations, and more than 4,000 others were on standby.

Five drilling rigs have been moved out of the storm's path, according to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Florida State University said its campuses in Tallahassee and Panama City will be closed from Tuesday to Friday.

President Trump has declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, and Governor Rick Scott pleaded on Wednesday with anyone in an evacuation zone - around 500,000 people - to "leave RIGHT NOW", or risk their lives.

The last major hurricane to hit the Panhandle was Hurricane Dennis in 2005, according to hurricane center data.

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