Florida braces for worst hurricane in a century

Reuters
Hurricane Michael closed in on Florida's northwestern shore Wednesday with the threat of catastrophic surges of sea water and roof-shredding winds.
Reuters
AFP

Evacuees wait for breakfast in a shelter in Panama City, Florida, as Hurricane Michael approaches packing winds of 230km per hour.

Hurricane Michael closed in on Florida’s northwestern shore Wednesday with the threat of catastrophic surges of sea water and roof-shredding winds.

Authorities told residents along areas of Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast that they had run out of time to evacuate and should just hunker down.

A very dangerous Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, Michael strengthened as it moved north over the Gulf of Mexico and was carrying top winds of 230km per hour, the National Hurricane Center said.

It was set to make landfall late Wednesday on Florida’s Panhandle and could drive sea water levels as high as 4.3 meters above normal in some areas, the center said.

Michael’s menace was compounded by its relatively quick development, growing from a tropical storm to Category 4 hurricane in about 40 hours.

“This kind of sprung up for us quite quickly,” said Andrew Gillum, mayor of the state capital, Tallahassee.

More than 2.1 million residents of at least 20 Florida counties were under mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders.

“Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in a century,” Governor Rick Scott said.

Some of the storm’s most significant early impact was to offshore energy production.

US producers in the Gulf cut oil production by about 40 percent and natural gas output by 28 percent on Tuesday, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said.

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses.

Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said the city, which could suffer some of the worst of the storm surge, was under mandatory evacuation orders.

“My greatest concern is that some people are just now starting to take this storm seriously and are evacuating,” he said.

“And I just hope the others that have not made that decision get out while the roads are still passable and before the bridges close.”

Among people who had fled their homes was Betty Early, 75, a retiree who joined about 300 fellow evacuees huddled on makeshift bed rolls of blankets and collapsed cardboard boxes at an elementary school serving as an American Red Cross shelter in Panama City, near the storm’s expected landfall.

She was unsure how well her old, wood-framed apartment block would hold up.

“I’m blessed to have a place to come,” she said.

“My greatest concern is not having electricity, and living on a fixed income, losing my food.”

About 2,500 National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations.

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