Tourists abandon Florida Panhandle beaches as Hurricane Michael nears

Evacuations ordered as Florida braces for Hurricane Michael

"The time to evacuate has come and gone ..." Tens of thousands of people were told to evacuate coastal areas as the storm moved over the Gulf of Mexico, bringing winds of 120mph and disrupting oil production.

On the exposed coast of Florida's Big Bend, most of the waterfront homes in Keaton Beach stood vacant amid fears of a life-threatening storm surge in an area that hadn't seen a potentially catastrophic major hurricane in decades.

Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties, activating 1,250 National Guard troops in preparation for the storm. The Carolinas are still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence six weeks ago, and Michael is expected to be orders of magnitude stronger than Florence. "The forecast keeps getting more risky", said Republican Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday as he urged all residents in the storm's path to evacuate or seek safe shelter.

Residents who are considering leaving are encouraged to do so as early as possible.

Forecasters on Wednesday warned people in the southern USA state of Florida to be ready for the full impact of "extremely dangerous" Hurricane Michael.

"We're a bit inland and out of the fray", said Stogner, adding that he still expected high winds to pummel the city.

Roads, buildings, marinas and boats are all under severe threat from Michael, as the NWS warns hurricane force winds will have "devastating impacts".

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

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.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration at the request of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Some 17,000 utility restoration workers were also on call.

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 to hit the Panhandle was Hurricane Dennis in 2005, according to hurricane center data.

The storm, which formed off the coast of northern Honduras, has already killed at least 13 people in Honduras, Nicaragua and El Salvador after torrential rains triggered flash-flooding and landslides in Central America over the weekend.

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