Hurricane Michael gains strength, takes aim at north Florida

Hurricane Michael made its way through the Gulf of Mexico Monday

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the hurricane was 395 miles (635 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida, and 365 miles (590 kilometers) south of Apalachicola, Florida. But fears lingered that some failed to heed the calls to get out of Michael's way as the hard-charging storm began speeding north over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

A tropical storm watch is in effect along the southeastern coast of the USA from Fernandina Beach, FL, to South Santee River, SC, the Chassahowitzka River to Anna Maria Island in Florida, including Tampa Bay, and the Mississippi-Alabama border to the mouth of the Pearl River. It had maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour and was moving north at 12 miles per hour.

At 11 a.m. ET (1500 GMT) on Tuesday, Michael's center was about 335 miles (535 km) south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida, heading north at around 12 mph (19 kph), the NHC said. People should know their evacuation route in case they are asked to leave, and plan in advance how to contact family and friends.

A Hurricane Warning remained in effect for coastal Escambia (red on map) and Santa Rosa counties, while a Tropical Storm Warning was in effect for inland Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Evacuations already had been ordered in parts of 10 counties, according to USA Today. Storm surge could reach a monstrous 12 feet in some areas - enough to "easily go over the roofs of some houses", he said.

Hurricane Michael could produce three life-threatening hazards along portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that the storm will hit the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday before hitting the southeastern United States on Wednesday night and Thursday.

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President Donald Trump approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide federal money and help in Florida.

Michael is also predicted to be the strongest hurricane based on wind speed to hit continental USA landfall this year. "It looks like another big one". He said people will "not be dragged out of their homes, " but anyone who stays behind will be on their own once the storm hits. Residents can expect gusty winds, thunderstorms, locally heavy flooding and possible isolated tornadoes for most of the day.

Michael intensified from a Category 3 storm early Wednesday, hours before its expected landfall in the afternoon. But the surging seawater could also create perilous problems far from the coast, raising rivers and bays to risky levels as it pushes as much as 10 to 15 miles inland.

Storm surge, not wind, is what the region should monitor the closest.

Scott declared a state of emergency in 35 Florida counties, mostly encompassing rural areas known for small tourist cities, beaches, wildlife reserves and Tallahassee, the state capital. At that strength, it would rank as the most powerful storm to strike the Panhandle in more than a decade. More than 80 deaths were linked to that storm, according to The Associated Press - including residents of a nursing home.

Other locations in the state are under voluntary evacuation.

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