Hurricane Michael: 'Monstrous' storm strengthens to category two

Hurricane Michael: 'Monstrous' storm strengthens to category two

- The latest forecast update from the National Hurricane Center has Michael set to come ashore around the Florida Panhandle as a Category 3 storm as officials in North Carolina are preparing for soaking rains and gusty winds that could uproot trees and knock down power lines around the Triangle.

Governor Rick Scott´s office said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for parts of Bay County, which includes the popular Panama City beach resort, and areas in nearby Gulf and Franklin counties.

Hurricane Michael strengthened to a Category 2 storm with 100-mile-per-hour winds on Tuesday as Florida's governor warned it could bring "total devastation" to parts of the southern U.S. state.

In addition to hurricane-force winds and heavy rain, storm surge flooding is a big concern along the Florida Gulf coast. Forecasters said tornadoes could be spun off by the storm, and 3 to 6 inches of rain could cause flash floods as it barrels over a corner of the country still recovering from Hurricane Florence.

Authorities told residents and tourists in at least 20 Florida counties to evacuate coastal areas along the 200-mile (322 km) long Panhandle and adjacent Big Bend region.

"Think about what we've seen before with storms like Hurricane Irma", he said.

A tropical storm watch is in effect along the southeastern coast of the US from Fernandina Beach, FL, to South Santee River, SC, the Chassahowitzka River to Anna Maria Island in Florida, including Tampa Bay, and the Mississippi-Alabama border to the mouth of the Pearl River.

The hurricane was forecast to deliver as much as 1 foot (30 cm) of rain in parts of Florida, Georgia and SC. Tropical storm warnings cover a further 3.1 million people in the three states. The storm was located about 395 miles south of Panama City and had picked up speed to 12 mph. In a Monday afternoon update, forecasters said winds have increased to almost 80 miles per hour (129 kph) as the storm moves north at almost 9 miles per hour (14 kph).

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Locally ordered evacuations of thousands of homes have begun, with 1250 National Guard soldiers aiding the process and more than 4000 troops on standby, Scott tweeted.

NWS forecasters also warned of a high rip current risk along the Grand Strand Tuesday.

Michael is forecast to hit the Florida coast Wednesday before moving over Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday night and Thursday. The National Hurricane Center has enacted hurricane, tropical storm, and storm surge warnings for more than 300 miles of the Florida coast. Forecasters say the storm will bring gusty winds and up to six inches of rain in central and eastern parts of the state before moving out Friday.

"I am concerned about the cone of uncertainty as Hurricane Michael is leaning west today", Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said in a statement Monday. "You need to take care of yourselves". "It looked a couple of days ago like it was not going to be much, and now it's looking like it could be a very big one, so we're prepared".

In the Florida Panhandle and surrounding areas, people are frantically boarding up homes, filling sandbags and planning for evacuation routes away from the storm's projected strike zone.

"In light of the storm's forecasted track, I encourage Georgians in the affected counties to be prepared and remain vigilant".

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal on Tuesday issued a state of emergency declaration for 92 counties in the state.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency in anticipation of widespread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds.

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