Hurricane Michael risks intensifying into a Category 4 storm as it speeds towards the Florida Panhandle. Tens of thousands of residents have been ordered to evacuate.
Hurricane Michael could cause “devastating damage” along the Florida Panhandle when it makes landfall later on Wednesday, the state’s governor, Rick Scott, warned.
With winds of up to 120 mph (195 kph), experts warned that Michael could strengthen into a massive Category 4 hurricane by the time it blows ashore.
Scott said Michael could be the worst storm in decades to hit the state’s northwest, also known as the Florida Panhandle.
Rick Knabb, the former head of the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC), urged residents to evacuate immediately and avoid seeking shelter in high-rise buildings.
“Evacuate as instructed today. Shelter where you’ll sleep tonight and stay for duration of storm and aftermath,” Knabb warned. “Shelter from hurricane winds like you would for a tornado. Do not stay in a high rise! Winds a category stronger on higher floors. Do not stay in mobile home!”
As many as 180,000 residents were ordered to evacuate their homes. Most evacuations were ordered from Bay County in the panhandle, a low-lying area made up mostly of resorts and retirement communities.
US President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for Florida and announced on Twitter that the government was freeing up federal funds for relief operations and providing assistance for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
“It is imperative that you heed the directions of your State and Local Officials. Please be prepared, be careful and be SAFE!” the president tweeted
Tracking Michael’s route
Hurricane Michael is expected to make landfall in the panhandle by Wednesday afternoon local time. According to the NHC, some parts of Florida could see up to storm surges of up to 13 feet (4 meters), and up to a foot of rain.
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The storm is expected to weaken as it moves up into the southeastern United States.
Nevertheless, state officials have also issued a disaster declaration for Alabama and Georgia. The Carolinas, meanwhile, are still
reeling from Hurricane Florence, which killed dozens and caused billions of dollars in damage last month
However, when Florence barreled towards the Carolinas, residents had five day’ notice from the time it had turned into a hurricane and the moment it hit. Michael’s increasing strength effectively gave locals in Florida just two days’ notice.
Read more: Climate change and extreme weather: Science is proving the link
Last year, saw an array of devastating storms batter the western Atlantic, including Irma, Maria and Harvey. Houston’s metropolitan area suffered a record-equaling $125 billion (€108 billion) in damage.
Climate scientists have long warned that the effects of global warming make storms more destructiveand point to last year’s string of hurricanes as visible evidence.