GOES-16 satellite image of Tropical Storm Michael at 10:15 am EDT 8 October 2018. Photo: NOAA / RAMMB

By Jennifer Kay and Gary Fineout
8 September 2018

MIAMI (AP) – Residents of Florida’s Panhandle frantically filled sandbags, boarded up homes and secured boats Monday as they anxiously awaited Hurricane Michael, which forecasters warned could smash into the state’s Gulf Coast as a dangerous major hurricane within days.

Fueled by warm tropical waters, Michael gained new strength by nightfall and could reach major hurricane status with winds topping 111 mph (179 kph) before its anticipated landfall Wednesday on the Panhandle or Big Bend area of Florida, forecasters warn.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott called Michael a “monstrous hurricane” with a devastating potential from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains.

Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 Florida counties from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members and waived tolls to encourage those near the coast to evacuate inland. Scott also said Monday afternoon that state health officials are reaching out to hospitals and nursing homes to be prepared. Following Hurricane Irma last year, 14 people died when a South Florida nursing home lost power and air conditioning.

Of the elderly and infirm patients, Scott had a blunt message for their caregivers: “If you’re responsible for a patient, you’re responsible for the patient. Take care of them.”

In the small Panhandle city of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson Sr. said the 2,300 residents are frantically preparing for a major hurricane strike that could be unlike any there in decades.

“We’re looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I’ve seen in my 59 years of life,” Johnson said of the city, straddling the shore of Apalachicola Bay, a Gulf of Mexico inlet that reaps about 90 percent of Florida’s oysters.

By Monday evening, lines had formed at gas stations and grocery stories as people sought emergency supplies even as evacuations were expected to intensify in coming hours. Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying coastal areas in Gulf, Wakulla and Bay counties.

In a Facebook post Monday, the Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office said no shelters would be open because Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 mph (178 kph). With Michael’s winds projected to be even stronger than that, Wakulla County residents were urged to evacuate inland.

“This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed,” the sheriff’s office said in the post. [more]

US Gulf Coast bracing for ‘monstrous’ Hurricane Michael

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