Hurricane Michael gains strength as Floridians flee to higher ground

Hurricane Michael gains strength as Floridians flee to higher ground

Hurricane Michael now has maximum sustained winds of 100 miles per hour with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 a.m. advisory.

Once it reaches land, Michael is forecast to weaken into a tropical storm when it passes through the East Coast, including the New York City area, by Friday morning.

Landfall is expected Wednesday on the northeastern Gulf Coast, where authorities warned of a potentially devastating strike.

The storm became a category 1 hurricane on Monday, and could be a category 2 or 3 storm by the time it hits Florida. Chances for tropical storm force winds in Volusia County over that time period are slightly less.

The NHC expects the center of Hurricane Michael to cross onto the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend Area on Wednesday. A Category 1 hurricane has sustained winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio and tropical storm warnings are in effect for the Cuban province of Isle of Youth and the Mexican coast from Tulum to Cabo Catoche.

Currently, the bulk of the forecast model guidance has the storm tracking southeast of the Maritimes, as well as Newfoundland this weekend. Wind gusts of 35 miles per hour or more are likely along the coast and could bring down trees and powerlines and rip tarps off homes damaged by Florence, Cooper said.

Michael underwent a period of "rapid intensification" on Sunday and Monday, its winds strengthening by more than 35 miles per hour.

In neighbouring Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey declared an emergency for the entire state on Monday in anticipation of wind damage, heavy rains and power outages.

Governor Scott also warned in a news conference that Hurricane Michael is a "massive storm that could bring total devastation to parts of our state, especially in the panhandle".

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Franklin County emergency officials issued a mandatory evacuation for all non-residents and Wakulla County emergency officials plan to announce a mandatory evacuation for coastal and low lying locations by 8 p.m. Monday night.

A Hurricane Warning is in effect from the Alabama/Florida border to Suwannee River, Florida.

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.

"For those considering evacuation, I can't stress strongly enough the importance of leaving as early as possible", Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said on Facebook.

Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties and said he was seeking a federal disaster declaration from President Donald Trump, who promised full support.

Hurricane Michael is headed straight for Florida's Panhandle and is expected to make landfall there sometime on Wednesday.

About 120,000 residents were under mandatory evacuation orders in Bay County in the panhandle, a low-lying area of beachfront resorts and retirement communities.

Areas likely to be hardest hit include the Crestview-Fort Walton Beach area, Panama City and Florida's state capital, Tallahassee.

Michael was a Category 1 hurricane but could make landfall as a Category 3, and forecasters warned it could send down 10 to 30 centimetres of rain.

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