Saturday, February 23, 2019 | ePaper
Florida girds for 'extremely dangerous' category 4 hurricane
Hurricane Michael closed in on Florida's Gulf Coast Wednesday as an "extremely dangerous" category four storm packing winds of up to 140 mph (220 kph) and a huge sea surge, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters were calling it an "unprecedented" weather event for the area.
The center said the storm could grow and is expected to slam ashore later in the day in Florida as a "life-threatening event." As outer rainbands from the storm lashed the coast, it said a storm surge of up to 13 feet (four meters) was expected in some areas.
Some 375,000 people in more than 20 counties were ordered or advised to evacuate, news reports said.
The National Weather Service office in the state capital Tallahassee issued a dramatic appeal for people to comply with evacuation orders. "Hurricane Michael is an unprecedented event and cannot be compared to any of our previous events. Do not risk your life, leave NOW if you were told to do so," it said.
The storm was forecast to make landfall somewhere along the Florida Panhandle-a finger-shaped strip of land in the Gulf of Mexico.
It was expected to bring hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall, the Miami-based NHC said.
It will then move across the southeastern US for another day or so as it heads toward the Atlantic.
The NWS office in Tallahassee said it had found no record of any previous category four hurricanes that made landfall in the panhandle or the "Big Bend" coastal region. "This situation has NEVER happened before," it said on Twitter. Category four is the second highest level on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale.
Governor Rick Scott has activated 2,500 members of the National Guard.
He warned Michael could be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades.
President Donald Trump issued an emergency declaration for the state, freeing up federal funds for relief operations and providing the assistance of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
State officials issued disaster declarations in Alabama and Georgia, both of which are also expected to feel the impact from the storm. As of 1000 GMT, Michael was about 120miles (195 km) south of Panama City and moving north at 13 miles per hour (20 kph).