US Gulf Coast bracing for 'monstrous' Hurricane Michael

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Hurricane Michael, which forecasters expect to make landfall around Panama City Wednesday, has forced mandatory evacuation orders for coastal or low-lying areas for almost a dozen counties as of Tuesday, according to the state emergency web site: Bay, Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Gulf, Jackson, Levy, Okaloosa, Taylor, Wakulla and Walton.

Packing top winds of 110 miles per hour, Michael spent the morning gaining strength in the gulf's warm waters as it barreled at 12 miles per hour toward the Florida Panhandle, where roughly 120,000 people are under mandatory evacuation orders.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Michael was centered about 420 miles (675 kilometers) south of Panama City at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

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 risky major hurricane within days.

The worst storm surge is expected between Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach, where nine to 13 feet of inundation is possible, forecasters warned. With Michael's winds projected to be even stronger than that, Wakulla County residents were urged to evacuate inland.

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Hurricane warnings blanketed much of northeastern Florida, from the Suwanee River to the Alabama border.

The hurricane was forecast to deliver as much as 1 foot (30 cm) of rain in parts of Florida, Georgia and SC. The Tampa Bay area is under a storm-surge watch. If Michael's core comes ashore as a Category 2 or higher, it would be the strongest storm in terms of wind speed to make landfall in the country this year.

"We expect Hurricane Michael to make landfall between Panama City, Florida, and Apalachicola, Florida, sometime later Wednesday or Wednesday night", according to AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski.

Energy companies halted almost a fifth of Gulf of Mexico oil production and moved staff from 10 platforms on Monday as Michael was forecast to become the strongest of three named storms to affect the US Gulf of Mexico this year.

Around 2,000 National Guard members have been put on duty to monitor conditions. "We're going to get storm surge, we have wind, we have a chance of flooding, we have a significant chance of tornadoes". "Damaging winds will also extend inland across portions of the Florida Panhandle, southern Georgia, and southeast Alabama as Michael moves inland".

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"It's definitely coming through an area that doesn't need more rain", Kimball said.

"Don't think that you can ride this out if you're in a low-lying area", Nelson said on CNN.

By the time it reaches Florida on Wednesday local time, it is expected to be a category three hurricane with winds of more than 100mph and storm surges of up to 12ft (3.7 metres).

Drivers waited in long lines at gas stations and residents hurried to fill sandbags, while tolls were suspended on some roads to aid movement ahead of the storm's landfall.

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

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"Guess what? That's today", Graham said.

Earlier, a Hurricane Hunter aircraft had reported Michael's eyewall was a little less organized, however they noted overnight that the hurricane had been defying all odds by strengthening Monday even while enduring wind shear.

In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency for 92 counties.

Tallahassee´s Democratic Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is campaigning to succeed Scott as governor in next month´s elections, suspended his campaign and returned to the state capital to oversee storm preparations.

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