Residents of Florida's Panhandle frantically filled sandbags, boarded up homes and secured boats Monday as they anxiously awaited Hurricane Michael, which forecasters warned could smash into the state's Gulf Coast as a unsafe major hurricane within days.
However, forecasts have gradually been revised upward, such that the storm may attain major hurricane status - category 3 or higher - before making landfall in the panhandle around Wednesday.
Michael pounded western Cuba with heavy rain and strong winds and is forecast to make landfall as a hurricane midweek on the northeastern US Gulf Coast. The center of the storm is expected to head inland towards the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area by Wednesday.
In a Facebook post Monday, the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said no shelters would be open because Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 miles per hour (178 kph). The Florida Panhandle and Big Bend area stretching into Georgia and SC could see four to eight inches of rain, with some areas as high as 12 inches.
The National Hurricane Center has warned that a "life-threatening" storm surge is likely to strike the Panhandle.
Florida State University campuses in Tallahassee and Panama City plan to close Tuesday through Friday.
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A Hurricane Watch is in effect for.
By 8 p.m. Monday, Michael's top sustained winds were around 85 miles per hour as it headed north at 12 miles per hour. Hurricane-force winds extend out up to 35 miles and tropical-storm-force winds outward about 175 miles.
Rick Scott called Michael a "monstrous hurricane" with devastating potential from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains.
"This storm will be life-threatening and extremely risky", Scott said Sunday after receiving a briefing at the State Emergency Operations Center.
Earlier Monday, Scott expanded the state of emergency he declared on Sunday from 26 to 35 counties.
Lowe's Home Improvement in Fort Walton Beach, according to Service Manager Jay Hildebrand, ran out of generators and water by 3 p.m. Hildebrand said the store was expecting an emergency shipment by Monday night.
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The storm was expected to brush the westernmost province of Pinar Del Rio, where most of Cuba's famed cigar tobacco is grown, before continuing north to the United States.
Wool raised concerns about potential storm surge in Franklin County's Apalachee Bay, which he described as the "second-most vulnerable stretch of coastline in the entire nation for storm surge, because of the shape of the coastline".
Tropical Storm Warnings have been issued over the northeastern portion of Mexico's Yucatan Penninsula and the western portions of Cuba ahead of the storm. We handle them very well...
Forecasters say the storm will gain more intensity through Tuesday, with a chance it will weaken somewhat as it nears land in Florida.
On Sunday, a tropical storm formed in the northern Caribbean Sea.
The red tide in the Gulf of Mexico off southwest Florida that began last October after Hurricane Irma swept up the state has killed massive amounts of marine life and caused respiratory irritations in people.
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