In Florida "life-threatening" storm surge of up to 14 feet was forecast, though the National Hurricane Center said water levels are beginning to recede in some locations. The worst damage - she thought - was in her yard.
At 9 a.m., Michael, with maximum sustained winds of 145 mph, was about 80 miles southwest of Panama City, moving north at 13 mph. Forecasters said Michael could be near a very unsafe Category 4 by landfall. The city could face hurricane-force winds of up to 100 miles per hour - enough to knock down a lot of trees and power lines, Accuweather meteorologist Brett Rathbun warned.
But some officials were anxious by what they weren't seeing just ahead of the storm - a rush of evacuees.
The child's death is the second known storm-related death.
Some 120,000 people have been warned to evacuate along Florida's coast, where schools and state offices are to remain shut this week.
Diane Farris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shelter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many.
"Don't think that you can ride this out if you're in a low-lying area", Nelson said on CNN.
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In the dangerously exposed coastal town of Apalachicola, population 2,500, Sally Crown planned to hunker down with her two dogs.
Thomas said relatives in IL had urged him to leave and stay with them, but he didn't have a way to get so far north so quickly, and shelters aren't a good option in his view.
Michael could dump up to a foot (30 centimeters) of rain over some Panhandle communities before its remnants go back out to sea by way of the mid-Atlantic states over the next few days.
At about 7 a.m., Wednesday Hurricane Michael took the turn to the east that Okaloosa County residents had been anxiously watching for since the night before and it appeared most of the region would be spared hurricane force winds. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging winds and rain all the way into the Carolinas, which are still recovering from hurricane Florence's epic flooding.
"I really fear for what things are going to look like there tomorrow at this time", Colorado State University hurricane expert Phil Klotzbach said in an email.
Officials also shut down the Hathaway Bridge, which connects Panama City and Panama City Beach and is a main route in and out of the cities. Two "devastating tornadoes" touched down in Gaston County, he said. Preliminary reports indicate the child, who authorities believe was 11 years old, died when something fell on a home but authorities have not been able to get to the home yet, said Travis Brooks, the county's emergency management director.
The Pentagon said it had pre-positioned more than 2,200 active-duty military personnel, along with helicopters, high-water vehicles and swift-water boats for deployment as needed. The winds ripped off hotel awnings, shattered glass doors, blew down fences and stirred up white caps in swimming pools.
US Gulf Coast bracing for 'monstrous' Hurricane Michael
With Michael's winds projected to be even stronger than that, Wakulla County residents were urged to evacuate inland. The hurricane was forecast to deliver as much as 1 foot (30 cm) of rain in parts of Florida, Georgia and SC .
Maue and other meteorologists watched in real time as a new government satellite showed the hurricane's eye tightening, surrounded by lightning that lit it up "like a Christmas tree".
The storm is likely to fire up the debate over global warming.
More than 20 million people in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia and SC could be affected by the storm. But without extensive study, they can not directly link a single weather event to the changing climate.
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, helped people fill sandbags.
They're heroes heading into hurricane areas.
Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City.
The base's aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown hundreds of miles away as a precaution, a spokesman said.
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In St. Marks, John Hargan and his family gathered up their pets and moved to a raised building constructed to withstand a Category 5 after water from the St. Marks River began surrounding their home.