Hurricane Michael: 'Monstrous' storm strengthens to category two

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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. Some parts of the Carolinas - recently deluged by Hurricane Florence - and southern Virginia could see up to 6 inches, the hurricane center said. The storm is expected to bring with it howling winds over 200 kmh, torrential rain, and substantial flooding.

"It's going to be a very catastrophic storm", WJZ's Bob Turk said.

An aerial picture of people filling bags with sand at the Lynn Haven Sports Complex while preparing for Hurricane Michael October 9, 2018 in Panama City, Florida. It warned of life-threatening storm surges, hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall.

In addition to the powerful winds, Michael is also bringing the threat of unsafe storm surge that could reach up to four meters in some places.

Hurricane Michael swelled to an "extremely dangerous" category four storm as it rumbled toward the Gulf Coast of Florida early on Wednesday in what forecasters warned was an unprecedented weather event for the area.

One of the biggest concerns on the coast is storm surge.

"The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone", he warned later on Wednesday morning.

Annette Strickland, 75, arrived at a Tallahassee high school. "That's just me. I don't want to be ugly".

Initially, she and her husband had planned to ride Michael out at their home in Lynn Haven, a small coastal town seven miles north - until they heard it had strengthened to a Category 4.

"After all the air conditioners go under water, we'll be busy", he said. "If you're along the coast you've got to hunker down". He scooped up her blankets and pillows and ushered her to a narrow hallway lined with grey metal lockers.

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Long also extended his warning to other parts of the Southeast, saying this could be the worst storm to hit southwest and central Georgia in "many, many decades - and maybe ever".

"It's going to be awful", he said.

More than 50 shelters were open across Florida.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar in a news release has also already declared a public health emergency in Florida due to the storm and its aftermath.

The hurricane was forecast to make landfall somewhere along the Florida Panhandle - a finger-shaped strip of land on the Gulf of Mexico - or the Big Bend, which connects the former to the peninsula jutting south.

Michael is expected to be the strongest hurricane, based on wind speeds, to make landfall in the continental United States since Irma in September of a year ago. Since 1950, only two other two major hurricanes have made landfall in the region: Eloise in 1975 and Opal in 1995.

NHC Director Ken Graham said Michael represented a "textbook case" of a hurricane system growing stronger as it drew near shore, in contrast to Hurricane Florence, which struck North Carolina last month after weakening in a slow, halting approach.

"If this trend continues overnight, people in the Florida Panhandle could wake up to having a Category 4 hurricane on their doorstep", senior NHC hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said during a live webcast.

This article was originally published at 12:10 a.m.

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