'Monstrous' Hurricane Michael gains strength, takes aim at north Florida

'Monstrous' Hurricane Michael gains strength, takes aim at north Florida

'Monstrous' Hurricane Michael gains strength, takes aim at north Florida

Hurricane Michael continues to gain strength as it moves through the southern Gulf of Mexico.

Michael underwent a period of "rapid intensification" from mid-day Sunday to mid-day Monday, growing from a tropical storm with sustained winds of 40 miles per hour to a Category 1 hurricane with sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.

Residents of Florida's Panhandle frantically filled sandbags, boarded up homes and secured boats in harbours Monday as they anxiously awaited Hurricane Michael, which forecasters warned could smash into the northeast Gulf Coast as a unsafe major hurricane within days.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River, and a hurricane watch is in effect from the Alabama-Florida border to the Mississippi-Alabama border.

Michael was moving north at 12 miles per hour (19 kph) and is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and heavy rain to the northeastern Gulf Coast.

The National Weather Service has warned the hurricane could have catastrophic impacts in the Big Bend and Panhandle as it moves ashore with powerful winds and a life-threatening storm surge, then turns northeastward to the Carolinas.

A hurricane warning was up across the Florida panhandle, a low-lying area of beachfront resort and retirement communities on north-eastern Gulf coast. Residents also lined up to buy gas and groceries even as evacuations - both voluntary and mandatory - were expected to pick up the pace Tuesday.

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The Florida Peninsula, eastern mid Atlantic and southern New England coast could see as much as 3 inches of rain.

While Florence wrung itself out for days and brought ruinous rains, fast-moving Michael is likely to be more about wind and storm surge.

From Cedar Key to Crystal River, Florida, 6 to 8 feet of storm surge is forecast.

Michael was forecast to have the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days by the time it hits Florida on Wednesday.

A state of emergency has also been declared in neighbouring state Alabama by Governor Kay Ivey. "You need to take care of yourselves". By 8am on Tuesday (1am Wednesday NZT), top winds had reached 155kmh, and it was forecast to strengthen into a "major" Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of more than 179kmh.

"Residents in these areas should follow advice given by local officials". "Well, we're about to get punched in the face".

Floridians scurried to prepare after Gov. Rick Scott extended a state of emergency to 35 counties and activated 1,250 National Guardsmen for hurricane duty. Plenty of water. I made sure we've got clean clothes. He said tolls were being suspended in the state's northwest region to ease the evacuation process, and the Florida Highway Patrol is sending almost 350 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas.

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Forecasters expect Hurricane Michael to grow stronger still as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico on its way to Florida's Panhandle.

It should be stressed that these figures aren't estimates of losses for hurricane Michael, rather simulated estimates for older storms in the same area that factor in today's exposure levels.

In Florida, state offices, schools and universities were set to close on Tuesday through the end of the week in panhandle counties. A warning for the coast of Mexico from Tulum to Cabo Catoche, was canceled late Monday.

At least 13 people have died in Central America over the weekend because of torrential rains and flash flooding caused by the storm.

The Panhandle, from Pensacola to Apalachicola, will experience the most significant effects from the hurricane. Up to four inches (10 centimeters) were expected to fall through Tuesday.

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