Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned Hurricane Michael will be the worst storm to hit the Florida panhandle in more than a century and is slated to bring with it life-threatening storm surges and intense winds that could knock out power in several areas across the state for at least a week.
“Now the storm is here. It is not safe to travel across the panhandle,” Scott said during a news briefing Wednesday morning.
“If you are in a coastal area, do not leave your house. The time to evacuate in coastal areas has come and gone.”
The brutal storm currently has maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, making it a “potentially catastrophic” Category 4 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center’s most recent update.
As of 8 a.m. Michael was about 90 miles south of Panama City and is moving north at about 13 mph. The hurricane is expected to strengthen before it makes landfall at some point this afternoon or early evening.
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham warned of structural damages including downed power lines and trees as well as hurricane-force winds strong enough to rip the roofs off houses. He added that the effects of the storm will extend far beyond the coast and into some parts of Central Georgia.
Flash flooding is among one of the biggest threats, with the Florida Panhandle and Big Bend as well as southeast Alabama and portions of Southwest and Central Georgia bracing themselves for up to 8 inches of rainfall.
A storm surge warning was in effect Wednesday for Okalossa/Walton county line to the Anclote River and from the Anclote River to Anna Maria Island — which includes Tampa Bay. Several areas could see surges peaking at 14 feet, which is a complete “inundation” of water, Graham noted.
“The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving in from the shoreline,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
Another 3.8 million people were under hurricane warnings across Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend regions Wednesday morning.
Should Michael make landfall as a Category 4 storm as expected, it will be the strongest hurricane to target the Florida Panhandle since 1851, Dr. Phil Klotzbach, a tropical scientist with at Colorado state University, told Weather.com.
Emergency officials in Bay County, where the storm is slated to make landfall, said it’s response is now limited as conditions continue to rapidly deteriorate across the area.
“Fire and Emergency Medical Services are now unable to respond to calls in Bay County with exception of Panama City Fire who is responding to life-threatening emergencies within city limits,” according to a tweet from Bay County and Emergency Services.
At least 500,000 people have been encouraged to evacuate as the “life-threatening” storm continues to roar towards Florida — and those who have chosen to stay behind must do all they can to keep themselves safe.
“You’ve made your decision,” Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum said Wednesday morning. “It’s time to hunker down and ride out this storm.”