Residents of northwest Florida had until early Tuesday to leave their homes ahead of Hurricane Michael, forecast to crash ashore midweek as a major Category 3 storm with “life-threatening” flash flooding possible.
Governor Rick Scott´s office said mandatory evacuation orders were in place for parts of Bay County, which includes the popular Panama City beach resort, and areas in nearby Gulf and Franklin counties.
“Every family must be prepared. We can rebuild your home, but we cannot rebuild your life,” Scott said.
The alert came after the tropical storm system strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds late Monday of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
By 0001 GMT (Tuesday), Michael was off the western tip of Cuba´s Pinar del Rio province, churning to the north at 12 miles per hour (19 kilometers per hour), across from Mexico´s Yucatan peninsula. Michael was forecast to push through warm, relatively shallow Gulf of Mexico waters before moving inland over the northern Gulf coast of Florida.
Michael was forecast to have the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days by the time it hits Florida on Wednesday. Then it is forecast to lash the southeastern United States through Thursday.
“Steady to rapid strengthening is forecast during the next day or so, and Michael is forecast to become a major hurricane by Tuesday night,” the NHC said.
Earlier it said Michael could produce three life-threatening hazards along portions of the northeastern Gulf Coast: storm surge, heavy rainfall, and hurricane-force winds, with storm surge and hurricane watches in effect.
The first rains from Michael already started to soak the Florida Keys on Monday. Up to four inches (10 centimeters) were expected to fall through Tuesday.
Late Monday, residents of far western Cuba were forecast to get up to eight inches of rain.
“This rainfall could lead to life-threatening flash floods and mudslides,” the NHC warned.