'Potentially catastrophic' Hurricane Michael strengthens to Category 2, targets Florida

Hurricane Michael takes aim at 300-mile Gulf Coast target

More than 20 million people are under a hurricane watch or warning across five states (Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, South Carolina).

On its current track, Michael will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico throughout Tuesday and then move inland over the Panhandle or Big Bend area of Florida on Wednesday, according to the hurricane center.

The barrelling storm, packing winds of 130mph, could potentially unleash devastating waves as high as 13 feet (4 meters), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned. US producers in the Gulf cut oil production by about 40 percent and natural gas output by 28 percent on Tuesday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said. Michael is now centered about 360 miles south of Panama City, Florida, and landfall is likely to occur sometime around midday Wednesday between the Florida Panhandle and the state's Big Bend.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had numerous teams deployed and ready to respond, said FEMA spokesman Jeff Byard. About 1,250 National Guard soldiers were assisting and more than 4,000 troops were on standby.

President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said the country was very well prepared for the hurricane, adding it was much bigger than had been expected.

"All indications are that it's going to be severe, " said Tallahassee City Commissioner Gil Ziffer, adding that if the storm hits Florida's capital, there would be significant tree damage and power outages. Lines at gasoline stations grew as people left.

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"I just got a crew that came in that are staying also and they're in here helping me get everything buttoned up, tightened down, getting the food secure", Givens said.

"#Michael could be one of the worst hurricanes to strike the Florida Big Bend and Florida Panhandle region", Rick Knabb, the hurricane expert at The Weather Channel, tweeted on Monday.

The storm is now moving north, crossing into the Gulf of Mexico, and will likely curve to the east after its coastal impact.

Michael could cause erosion at the base of sand dunes along three-fourths of Florida Panhandle beaches, the U.S. Geological Service said. However, forecasters always note it is not possible to say where a hurricane will land until it is closer to the coast.

The National Weather Service is now warning that Michael is a "potentially catastrophic" weather event, which could result in "the strongest hurricane to landfall" upon Florida's Panhandle in over a decade.

The storm surge in some places in Florida could reach more than 10 feet, the NHC warned.

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