US Gulf Coast bracing for 'monstrous' Hurricane Michael

FIRST ALERT Michael is now a hurricane expected to be major hurricane at landfall

FIRST ALERT Michael is now a hurricane expected to be major hurricane at landfall

The storm has strengthened to Category 2, one notch below classification as a major hurricane, and forecasters say it could bring catastrophic damage when it makes landfall.

As of 5 a.m. ET Monday, Tropical Storm Michael was centered about 90 miles east of Cozumel, Mexico, the National Hurricane Center said.

A hurricane hunter plane that bounced into the swirling eye of Michael off the western tip of Cuba late Monday found wind speeds were rising even as forecasters warned the storm would reach major (Category 3) hurricane status with winds topping 111 miles per hour.

Michael was packing sustained winds of up to 140km/h late on Monday and gaining strength as it skirted past Cuba's western tip, where it is expected to dump as much as 30cm of rain, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas.

Hurricane Michael is threatening more than 300 miles of the Gulf Coast, prompting emergency declarations in more than 35 counties from Mobile, Alabama through the Florida Panhandle and into the state's Big Bend region.

Hurricane Michael is shaping up to be a "monster" storm, in the words of Florida's governor, but it doesn't look like there will be any major effects on the D.C. area.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties, activating 500 National Guard troops in preparation for the storm.

In North Carolina, still reeling from the destruction of Hurricane Florence last month, Gov. Roy Cooper warned that Michael could bring moderate storm surge, downed trees and power outages to his sodden state.

The chance of tornadoes will also increase into Wednesday over parts of the Florida Panhandle, the northern Florida Peninsula and southern Georgia, the agency said.

"Hurricane Michael is a monster storm and it keeps getting more risky", Florida Governor Rick Scott told a news conference on Tuesday.

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Forecasters anticipate Michael will reach land either in the Panhandle or somewhere along the state's Big Bend as soon as Wednesday morning. The worst storm surge is expected between Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach, where nine to 13 feet of inundation is possible, forecasters warned. "This is the real thing, a significant threat to life and safety".

"We can take quite a bit of rain, but the folks in the Carolinas can't right now", Orrock said.

Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the coast as Hurricane Michael approaches.

After it makes landfall, the storm is predicted to pass into Georgia, where Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday issued a state of emergency covering 92 counties - almost the entire lower two-thirds of his state.

Michael also wreaked havoc in the Caribbean. He warned that storm surge could affect areas of Florida not in the storm's direct path.

Farther inland, in the state capital, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, helped people fill sandbags.

In Georgia, which will be hit by damaging winds and downed power lines, Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for 92 of his state's counties.

Winds are sustained at 120 miles per hour.

Franklin County emergency officials issued a mandatory evacuation for all non-residents and Wakulla County emergency officials plan to announce a mandatory evacuation for coastal and low lying locations by 8 p.m. Monday night.

Even neighbors in Alabama were bracing.

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