Hurricane Michael hits Category 2; ‘potential to be historic storm’

By JENNIFER KAY and GARY FINEOUT, Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) — Hurricane Michael has strengthened to a Category 2 storm in the Gulf of Mexico as it approaches the Florida Panhandle.

Intensifying over warm Gulf of Mexico waters Tuesday, it stands to become a major hurricane before making landfall Wednesday along Florida’s Panhandle. Mandatory evacuations were issued as beach dwellers rushed to board up homes just ahead of what could be a devastating hit.

A hurricane hunter plane that bounced into the swirling eye off the western tip of Cuba late Monday found wind speeds rising, supporting forecasts that the storm could reach major hurricane status Tuesday night — Category 3 or above — with winds topping 111 mph.

Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the coast as Hurricane Michael approaches.

Parts of Florida’s marshy, lightly populated Big Bend area could see up to 12 feet of storm surge, while Michael also could dump up to a foot of rain over some Panhandle communities as it moves inland, forecasters said.

“People need to start leaving now,” Sheriff Tommy Ford told an emergency meeting Monday night. He said people will “not be dragged out of their homes,” but anyone who stays behind will be on their own once the storm hits.

By 5 a.m. Tuesday, Michael’s top sustained winds were up to 90 mph, centered about 390 miles south of Apalachicola and 420 miles south of Panama City. Hurricane-force winds extended outward for 35 miles from the core.

Forecasters warned that Michael could ultimately dump a foot of rain in western Cuba, triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas.

Disaster agencies in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua reported 13 deaths as roofs collapsed and residents were carried away by swollen rivers. …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Nation, World


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