'Most destructive storm to hit the Florida panhandle in decades'

Katie Ramirez
October 10, 2018

Evacuations of about 375,000 people have been called for ahead of the fast-strengthening storm, Florida officials said.

By late Tuesday, Michael was causing major disruptions to US oil and gas production as it churned north, gathering greater strength over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster response.

A storm surge of up to 13 feet (four meters) is expected in some areas, the center said.

Hurricane Michael is growing stronger, expected to make landfall on Wednesday as a Category 3 hurricane.

Scott, a Republican running for the U.S. Senate in November's congressional elections, declared a state of emergency in 35 Florida counties.

Florida Governor Rick Scott issued a series of tweets late Tuesday and early Wednesday imploring people in his state to evacuate coastal areas and remain safe during the storm.

Among people who had fled their homes was Betty Early, 75, a retiree who joined about 300 fellow evacuees huddled on makeshift bed rolls of blankets and collapsed cardboard boxes at an elementary school serving as an American Red Cross shelter in Panama City, near the storm's expected landfall. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence's epic flooding.

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"For us, this storm is not going to be like Fran, Florence or Michael", she said. The agency said it is possible the storm could strengthen further before it makes landfall later Wednesday.

Northwest Florida as a region attracted almost 17 million visitors in 2016, or 15 percent of total tourists in the state, according to Visit Florida, the state's tourism marketing arm.

Five drilling rigs have been moved out of the storm's path, according to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Scott said that he's called up 2,500 members of the National Guard to assist, and has more than 1,000 rescuers at the ready.

Krystal Day, of Homosassa, Fla., left, leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant Tuesday, Oct. 9, 2018, on Ozello, Fla.

The last major hurricane, a storm of Category 3 or above, to hit the Panhandle was Dennis in 2005, according to hurricane center data.

At least 13 storm-related deaths have been reported in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

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