Hurricane Michael grows stronger on way to Florida

A satellite image shows Hurricane Michael in the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday

The storm made landfall near Mexico Beach, with wind speeds reaching 155 miles per hour (249 kph) - just shy of a Category 5 hurricane.

"We expect conditions across the panhandle to deteriorate rapidly", Florida Governor Rick Scott said during a press conference on Wednesday morning.

Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Panhandle in decades.

The storm's rapid intensification over the past two days, despite shifting winds, "defies traditional logic", according to hurricane forecasters.

National Hurricane Center, the storm made landfall before 2 p.m. ET. It could reach into the millions from the "potentially catastrophic" Cat 4 storm, which was packing sustained winds of 155 miles per hour - just 2 miles per hour short of Cat 5 status.

"Today is the day".

In its discussion, the center said the environment ahead of Michael was conducive to intensification.

"Michael is likely to produce potentially catastrophic wind damage where the core of the hurricane moves onshore in the Florida Panhandle, and everyone in the hurricane warning area should prepare for life-threatening hurricane winds".

Dock Street, the arty fishing town's main drag, was mostly spared, a stark contrast from the destruction from Hurricane Hermine in 2016, that slammed the island with a nine-foot storm surge. Potentially catastrophic wind damage will occur along the coast, with unsafe winds affecting areas further north, including southern Georgia and southeast Alabama. President Donald Trump has endorsed Scott and DeSantis.

Scott said search-and-rescue teams had worked throughout the night looking for survivors of the most powerful storm to hit the Panhandle in more than a century. "It looks like another big one".

More than 370,000 people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate and move to higher ground.

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The governor activated 750 National Guardsmen for storm response on Monday, on top of the 500 activated the day before.

Al Hancock, 45, who works on a tour boat, survived in Panama City with his wife and dog. But the surging seawater could also create perilous problems far from the coast, raising rivers and bays to unsafe levels as it pushes as much as 10 to 15 miles inland.

A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for. "We know many people have been injured".

The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, which left dozens dead and is estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damage last month. A pine tree punched a hole in their roof and he said the roar of the storm sounded like a jet engine as the winds accelerated. "You have rain, you have wind - but storm surge, that's a lot of water that can come onshore", said David Peaton, the assistant director of emergency management in Levy County, in an interview with local station WUFT.

Schools and state offices in the area are to remain shut this week.

Authorities are correcting early reports about the death of an 11-year-old girl as Hurricane Michael blew over southwest Georgia.

Both NOAA and Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft have flown through the hurricane's four quadrants - and the NHC says, "The planes actually passed through the eye around the same time [Tuesday morning], and reported that they could see one another".

Florida Fish and Wildlife has put 40 additional law enforcement officers on notice to deploy with a variety of special equipment, including boats that can be used for high-water rescues.

As Tropical Storm Michael continues to move through the Carolinas and back into the Atlantic Ocean, it may have significant after-effects on the Jacksonville area.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to hit the US mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969.

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