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Updated On: Thursday, 18 October 2018
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'Potentially Catastrophic' Hurricane Michael on Collision Course with Florida Panhandle

Content by: Voice of America

After strengthening in the overnight hours, Hurricane Michael is closing in on the Florida Panhandle as weather forecasters warn residents of the southern U.S. state to be ready for the full impact of the "potentially catastrophic" storm.

The National Hurricane Center said in its latest report Wednesday morning that Michael's maximum sustained winds were at 230 kilometers per hour and that the storm was about 130 kilometers south-southwest of Panama City, Florida. Amid the storm's approach, forecasters warned that water levels were quickly rising and winds increasing along the panhandle.

Michael's outer bands were already soaking the panhandle area as the center moved closer to its expected afternoon landfall.

Michael threatens to become the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the panhandle, which is the northwestern part of Florida. The hurricane was expected to make landfall with the same strength Wednesday afternoon, a development that has never happened since authorities began keeping records in 1851.

A message written on a closed business is pictured as Hurricane Michael approaches Panama City Beach, Florida, Oct. 10, 2018.
A message written on a closed business is pictured as Hurricane Michael approaches Panama City Beach, Florida, Oct. 10, 2018.

Forecasters said it could gain even more strength in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before reaching land.

Storm surge

In addition to the powerful winds, Michael is bringing the threat of a dangerous storm surge that could exceed four meters in some places.

Rainfall is expected to total 10 to 20 centimeters in parts of Florida, Alabama and Georgia during the next few days, and up to 30 centimeters in isolated areas of those states.

Florida Governor Rick Scott Wednesday declared Michael "the worst storm that the Florida Panhandle has seen in more than 100 years. Scott issued mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders for more than 2 million Floridians. Scott, however, said at this point, it is too late to evacuate the panhandle.

"Now the storm is here, it is not safe to travel across the panhandle," Scott warned at a morning media briefing. "If you are in a coastal area, do not leave your house. The time to evacuate in coastal areas has come and gone."

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long told reporters that people "who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don't usually live to tell about it."

Waves crash along a pier as Hurricane Michael approaches Panama City Beach, Florida, Oct. 10, 2018.
Waves crash along a pier as Hurricane Michael approaches Panama City Beach, Florida, Oct. 10, 2018.

Long said FEMA is working hand in hand" with Governor Scott. He also said aircraft are ready to support any search and rescue missions in affected areas and that staging areas with emergency supplies have been established in Atlanta, Georgia and at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. In addition to Florida, states of emergency have been declared for Alabama and Georgia.

Associate FEMA administrator Jeff Byard told reporters the region should prepare for "major infrastructure damage" to electrical and wastewater treatment systems as well as transportation networks.

Krystal Day, of Homosassa, Fla., leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Ozello, Fla.
Krystal Day, of Homosassa, Fla., leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, in Ozello, Fla.

National Guard

About 2,500 National Guard troops are helping with storm preparations and ready to assist with evacuations, while more than 4,000 others are on standby.

President Donald Trump said federal emergency officials are standing by to help with recovery efforts.

The National Hurricane Center said Michael is the first major storm to hit the Florida Panhandle since Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

The storm will drift into the mid-Atlantic States and out to sea by Friday.

Michael has already having soaked parts of Central America and Cuba with heavy rains, causing flooding and power outages.
At least 13 storm-related deaths have been reported in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

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