Florida braces for lethal floods as hurricane nears

WATCH Hurricane Michael hits Cuba and Mexico on its way to U.S

WATCH Hurricane Michael hits Cuba and Mexico on its way to U.S

Hurricane Michael intensified to a Category 2 storm Tuesday morning as it churned through the Gulf of Mexico toward Florida - where it could make landfall Wednesday as a Category 3 storm.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued to about 120,000 people living in Panama City, Fla., and across other low-lying parts of the coast as the storm nears.

As of 5:00 pm Eastern time (2100 GMT), Michael was about 295 miles (470 kilometers) south of Panama City and moving north at 12 miles per hour (19 kph).

Hurricane Michael will likely strengthen to a Category 3 storm before it makes landfall on the Gulf Coast, according to the National Weather Service.

The center of Michael is then expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday.

Forecasters said parts of Florida's marshy, lightly populated Big Bend area could see up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) of storm surge. He said Tuesday that he doesn't expect he'll get resupplied soon, because stations nearer to interstate highways will get priority.

The Weather Service has already issued a tropical storm warning for the coast along Georgia and SC nearly as far north as Georgetown. Following Hurricane Irma previous year, 14 people died when a South Florida nursing home lost power and air conditioning.

The storm will bring an 8-12 foot storm surge. If Michael's core comes ashore as a Category 2 or higher, it would be the strongest storm in terms of wind speed to make landfall in the country this year. Thus, flood is not expected to be a large loss driver with Michael. Michael is forecast to retain at least tropical storm strength as it crosses Georgia and the Carolinas, so Michael's overall wind swath could be broad. Mandatory evacuations were under way in coastal areas, with 1,250 National Guard soldiers aiding the process and more than 4,000 troops placed on standby, Scott tweeted.

The governor's office cautioned that flash flooding and tornadoes are possible with any hurricane.

After striking Florida, Michael is forecast to move up the East Coast on Wednesday and Thursday tearing through the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month.

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More than 45 per cent of the nation's refining capacity is located along the US Gulf Coast, which also is home to 51 per cent of total US natural gas processing capability.

When asked if Maul remained concerned about local efforts Tuesday afternoon, Division of Emergency Management spokesman Alberto Moscoso said: "Director Maul will continue to stress the need for urgency from county officials who are in charge of evacuations and sheltering operations".

"Alabama is once again in the path of a hurricane, but I know Alabamians will once again come together and be prepared for whatever Michael may bring", Ivey said in a statement.

He said: "Today is about life and safety".

Currently, the bulk of the forecast model guidance has the storm tracking southeast of the Maritimes, as well as Newfoundland this weekend.

Hurricane Michael will influence South Florida's weather for the rest of the week, but the effects are not expected to be significant, forecasters say.

In Georgia, which will be hit by damaging winds and downed power lines, Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for 92 of his state's counties.

The hurricane is expected to be the most powerful storm to strike the southern U.S. state's panhandle in at least a decade.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, filled sandbags with residents and urged residents of the state capital city to finish up emergency preparations quickly.

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