Major Hurricane Michael nearing Cat 4 strength

The Latest on Hurricane Michael (all times local):

11 p.m.

  

Major Hurricane Michael is still gaining strength and forecast to become a potentially devastating Category 4 storm before making landfall along Florida's northeast Gulf Coast.

  

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said at 11 p.m. EDT Tuesday that a hurricane hunter plane found Michael's top sustained winds have increased to near 125 mph (205 kph) with higher gusts.

  

While Michael is now a strong Category 3 major hurricane, forecasters say, it's still strengthening and is expected to become a Category 4 hurricane before it makes landfall Wednesday.

  

At 11 p.m. EDT, the eye of Michael was about 220 miles (355 kilometers) south-southwest of Panama City, Florida. It also was about 200 miles (325 kilometers) south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida.

  

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10:45 p.m.

  

Florida officials say that roughly 375,000 people have been asked to evacuate ahead of the fast-strengthening Hurricane Michael.

  

State emergency officials said Tuesday that the number includes people who have been subject to both voluntary and mandatory evacuation orders. Twenty-two counties stretching across the Panhandle and down into north central Florida have issued evacuation orders.

  

There are fears, however, that some people aren't heeding the evacuation orders despite predictions of massive storm surge along the Gulf Coast.

  

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith says his deputies had gone door to door in some places along the coast to urge people to evacuate.

  

Smith says, "We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out. Hopefully more people will leave."

  

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8 p.m.

  

Forecasters say major Hurricane Michael is better organized and expected to strengthen further and be near a highly dangerous Category 4 strength as it approaches a projected Wednesday landfall in north Florida.

  

Michael is currently a powerful Category 3 hurricane packing top winds of 120 mph (195 kph). At 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, the hurricane's eye was located about 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida, or about 235 miles (375 kilometers) south-southwest of Apalachicola, Florida. The enormous storm system is moving north across the eastern Gulf of Mexico at 12 mph (19 kph).

  

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says Michael will push life-threatening storm surge onto parts of the Gulf Coast during the day Wednesday, bringing with it dangerous winds and heavy rains.

  

Though the storm is expected to weaken once it heads inland over the U.S. Southeast, tropical storm watches and warnings are in place along a stretch of the Atlantic seaboard in a region from northeast Florida to North Carolina.

  

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7:15 p.m.

  

Authorities in Florida's Citrus County say they've ordered a mandatory evacuation affecting more than 17,000  people along the Gulf Coast as Hurricane Michael approaches.

  

Also ordered to leave the county Tuesday: anyone staying in an RV, mobile home or manufactured home throughout the county.

  

Based on the responses of officials in even Florida counties, approximately 279,200 people have been affected by mandatory or voluntary evacuations as they seek to get away from Michael's projected path.

  

Michael strengthened Tuesday into a potentially devastating major hurricane as it continued its crossing of the eastern Gulf of Mexico. It's headed toward an expected Wednesday landfall on the Florida Panhandle.

  

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6:30 p.m.

  

Some boaters seeking to get away from Hurricane Michael are sailing west to Mississippi's Gulf Coast.

  

The Sun Herald of Biloxi, Mississippi, reports boat owners are headed for marinas and sheltered bays and rivers far from open Gulf waters. Some boats are tying up at a city marina in Biloxi even though strong easterly winds have pushed up water along the coast.

  

The National Weather Service has a tropical storm watch in place for the Mississippi coast.

  

Mike Thierry of Dauphin Island, Alabama, says he, his son and their families made a three-hour trip in two charter boats to Biloxi on Monday. Says Thierry: "You can't wait until the last minute to leave."

  

Meanwhile, The Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association says hotel reservations are increasing from those fleeing the storm's projected path. The potentially devastating major hurricane is expected to continue crossing the Gulf overnight toward a Wednesday landfall on the Florida Panhandle.

  

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6:10 p.m.

  

The state of Mississippi has deployed two search-and-rescue teams to Florida, to assist with potential emergency response efforts, ahead of Hurricane Michael.

  

The deployment was  announced Tuesday following a request from

  

Mississippi Office of Homeland Security Director Jay Ledbetter says Florida has a long history of helping Mississippi and they're glad to return the favor.

  

Mississippi is sending 42 personnel to serve as two swift water rescue teams. The teams are scheduled to remain in Florida for two weeks to conduct search and rescue operations if necessary.

  

The expenses for all the deployments will be reimbursed to the State of Florida.

  

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5:45 p.m.

  

A search and rescue team from Tennessee has been deployed to Alabama ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Michael.

  

The Memphis Fire Department says the Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked Tennessee Task Force Type 3 to report to Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. The department says a team of 80 firefighters, doctors, engineers and dog handlers departed Tuesday.

  

The task force will be responsible for wide-area and swift water search and rescue efforts.

  

At least 120,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were ordered to clear out on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael rapidly picked up steam in the Gulf of Mexico and closed in with winds of 120 mph and a potential storm surge of 13 feet.

  

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5 p.m.

  

Forecasters say Michael has strengthened into a major hurricane with winds of 120 mph (190 kph).

  

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says in a Tuesday evening advisory that Michael has become a Category 3 hurricane and is moving north across the Gulf of Mexico at 12 mph (19 kph). The hurricane is about 295 miles (475 kilometers) south of Panama City Beach, Florida.

  

Michael is expected to continue across the Gulf through the night and move inland over the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday. It is forecast to be a major hurricane at landfall and weaken as it moves across the southeastern U.S.

  

The hurricane center says some areas could see as much as 13 feet (4 meters) of storm surge and 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain.

  

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4:45 p.m.

  

As more of Florida's Gulf Coast counties order or recommend evacuation ahead of Hurricane Michael, Gov. Rick Scott is urging residents to leave if local authorities have asked them to do so.

  

Scott said Tuesday that as many as 50 families on St. George Island were reportedly staying put. St. George Island is a well-known beach community on a barrier island near Apalachicola.

  

"You cannot hide from storm surge," Scott said. "This storm is deadly. Do not take a chance."

  

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith says his deputies went door to door in some places along the coast to urge people to evacuate.

  

Florida officials say that so far nearly 900 people have arrived at 25 shelters in the Panhandle and north central Florida.

  

Michael is expected to blow ashore around midday Wednesday near Panama City Beach.

  

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3:15 p.m.

  

Shelters in one coastal Florida county aren't being opened because they are considered reliable only up to a Category 2 hurricane.

  

Several people were taken by van Tuesday from a coastal Wakulla County to Leon County to the north, home to the state capital.

  

Annette Strickland was one of the people who arrived at a Tallahassee high school. The 75-year-old said she wasn't concerned about flooding so much as losing power after the storm.

  

She was glad to have a safe place to ride out the storm but wasn't happy that her home county couldn't provide shelter.

  

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3 p.m.

  

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say Hurricane Michael already is pushing storm surge into the Florida Panhandle, hours before the storm's expected landfall.

  

Storm surge unit chief Jamie Rhome says water levels along the Gulf of Mexico were "much higher" than normal by mid-afternoon Tuesday.

  

The Okaloosa Sheriff's Office posted images on social media of water creeping up yards and under boat docks of waterfront homes. In Bay County, the sheriff's office posted images of a flooded road under gray skies.

  

Rhome said data a tide station in Apalachicola showed water levels 1.5 feet (50 centimeters) to 2 feet (60 centimeters) above normal levels.

  

Rhome said the rising waters will flood low-lying areas, including some roads that may be being used for evacuations.

  

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2:05 p.m.

  

A search and rescue team from Tennessee has been deployed to Florida ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Michael.

  

The Memphis Fire Department says the Federal Emergency Management Agency has asked Tennessee Task Force Type 3 to report to Eglin Air Force Base in the Florida Panhandle.

  

The department says a team of 80 firefighters, doctors, engineers and dog handlers departed Tuesday.

  

The task force will be responsible for wide-area and swift water search and rescue efforts.

  

At least 120,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were ordered to clear out Tuesday as Hurricane Michael rapidly picked up steam in the Gulf of Mexico and closed in with winds of 110 mph (175 kph) and a potential storm surge of 12 feet (3.7 meters).

  

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2 p.m.

  

Forecasters expect Hurricane Michael to grow stronger still as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico on its way to Florida's Panhandle.

  

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said Michael had top sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph). That's just below the threshold for a "major" hurricane. Michael was moving north at 12 mph (19 kph) and is expected to bring life-threatening storm surge and heavy rain to the northeastern Gulf Coast.

  

Officials in Bay County say they have not seen a rush of evacuees clogging roads inland - and that worries them with just hours left before Michael's landfall in the Panhandle.

  

Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said he's "not seeing the level of traffic" he would expect when three-quarters of the county's residents are under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders.

  

The hurricane is expected to make landfall Wednesday in Florida before crossing Georgia and the Carolinas as a weaker storm.

  

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1:15 p.m.

  

Several schools across the South have closed or plan to close in advance of Hurricane Michael.

  

Many Florida schools, including Florida State University, closed Tuesday and announced they will remain that way until at least Thursday.

  

Florida State was also inviting its off-campus students, faculty and staff to weather the storm in the building where its basketball teams play.

  

In Bay County, Florida, where 120,000 people were ordered to evacuate, the school district tweeted that the decision to cancel school wasn't made lightly, but so many families have heeded the warnings to flee.

  

In Alabama, Troy University and Wallace Community College in the southeastern part of the state canceled Wednesday classes.

  

Local news media report that several universities as well as public and private schools in southern and central Georgia would close through at least Thursday.

  

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12:40 p.m.

  

The U.S. Geological Service says Hurricane Michael will likely cause beach erosion along three-quarters of the Florida's Panhandle, wiping away sand right up to the dunes.

  

The agency says erosion could be even worse in about a fourth of the Panhandle's white-sand beaches, particularly areas east of the eye, as a storm surge on top of high surf could see waves as high as 16 to 20 feet washing over the top of the protective dune line.

  

The agency's research oceanographer Kara Doran says wave heights in the open Gulf of Mexico are expected to reach as high as 40 feet (12 meters). As the storm approaches the coastline, she says this water will flow over a shallow sea bed and "overwhelm the dunes, which are relatively low and narrow."

  

In Gulf County beach town Cape San Blas, contractors are pulling out equipment for a long-planned beach renourishment project. Gulf County's coordinator of the beach project, Warren Yeager, tells the Pensacola News Journal that roadways and sewer lines could wash away.

  

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12:20 p.m.

  

Most gas stations in downtown Tallahassee are out of gas as Hurricane Michael approaches. That includes the Quick 'N' Save where owner Harin Desai was boarding up his windows and picking up loose tree branches around the shop. He said Tuesday that he doesn't expect he'll get resupplied soon, because stations nearer to interstate highways will get priority.

  

Desai is also out of water and down to about two dozen bags of ice, and yet there's still people coming in for last-minute supplies.

  

That includes 64-year-old Shannon Sullivan, who returned for ice and beer after gassing up and buying water the day before.

  

Shannon remembers how previous hurricanes knocked out power in Florida's capital city, so he knows what's possible with Michael.

  

He says he expects a lot of trees down and other problems if the hurricane stays on track to hit Tallahassee.

  

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11:40 a.m

  

North Carolina's governor says he's afraid Hurricane Michael could slow the recovery for homeowners dealing with wind or flooding from Hurricane Florence.

  

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that Michael isn't expected to hit his state as hard as Florence did last month, but people shouldn't let their guard down, even if they're suffering from cleanup fatigue. He said many houses that suffered roof damage in Florence are still covered in tarps and could be vulnerable to strong wind and rain.

  

Michael is expected to race across the Carolinas late Wednesday and early Thursday, dumping 2 to 5 inches or more of rainfall. Since the ground remains saturated in places, that could mean flash flooding, and trees in wet ground can topple more easily in high winds.

  

He said that forecasters aren't expecting the same kind of major river flooding caused by Florence, and conditions should improve on Friday.

  

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11:15 a.m.

  

Florida Democrats are suing to extend the state's voter registration deadline due to disruptions from Hurricane Michael.

  

The Florida Democratic Party is asking a federal judge to extend the state's voter registration deadline by at least one week.

  

Florida's deadline to register is Tuesday, 29 days before the Nov. 6 election.

  

Secretary of State Ken Detzner, who works for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, told local election supervisors just before midnight Monday that if their offices were closed on Tuesday due to the approaching hurricane, they could accept paper applications on the day that their office reopens.

  

The lawsuit says that decision is "insufficient" and "confusing."

  

Many government offices across the Panhandle were closed on Monday due to the holiday, and remained closed on Tuesday in advance of the fast-moving storm.

  

Democrats filed a similar lawsuit in 2016 after Hurricane Matthew caused disruptions and damage along the state's east coast.

  

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11 a.m.

  

Data from hurricane hunter aircraft flying through Hurricane Michael show the storm is still strengthening over the Gulf of Mexico.

  

At 11 a.m. EDT, the National Hurricane Center said Michael had top sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph). That's just below the threshold for a "major" hurricane, and forecasters say they still expect Michael to get stronger.

  

Michael was moving north at 12 mph (19 kph). The hurricane is expected to make landfall in Florida's Panhandle or Big Bend on Wednesday before crossing Georgia and the Carolinas as a weaker storm.

  

The storm's effects will be felt far from the eye of the hurricane. Forecasters said Michael's storm winds stretched 370 miles (595 kilometers) across, with hurricane-strength winds extending up to 35 miles (55 kilometers) from the center.

  

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10:50 a.m.

  

Forecasters say Tropical Storm Nadine has formed over the open Atlantic.

  

The storm is about 480 miles (770 kilometers) off the Cabo Verde Islands and is posing no threat to land.

  

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Nadine had top sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph).

  

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Leslie is meandering over the central Atlantic with top sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph).

  

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10:30 a.m.

  

The death toll from Hurricane Florence has increased to a total of 51 as another hurricane now bears down on the southeastern United States.

  

North Carolina's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled that the death of a 68-year-old man in Onslow County on Sept. 20 was a storm-related fatality. The office says he died of a "natural disease" made worse by storm cleanup. His name wasn't immediately released.

  

That raises North Carolina's toll to 40. Another 11 deaths in South Carolina and Virginia have been blamed on Florence.

  

The Carolinas are bracing for more wind and rain on Wednesday from Hurricane Michael, which is churning toward Florida's Gulf Coast and is expected to drive inland after landfall.

  

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9:50 a.m.

  

Emergency officials across the Carolinas are warning residents to monitor Hurricane Michael, which is expected to move through the region after coming ashore along Florida's Gulf Coast. They're expecting heavy rain, tropical storm-force winds and tornados beginning Wednesday.

  

South Carolina's emergency management director Kim Stenson said the severity will depend on the storm's intensity after it blows over Florida, Alabama and Georgia. Residents of the Carolinas are still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which struck the Atlantic coastline last month.

  

A tropical storm watch is in effect for the southern two-thirds of the South Carolina coast, from Florida up to the South Santee River.

  

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9:40 a.m.

  

Forecasters say Georgia could see evacuations and rescues as Hurricane Michael brings torrents of rain across the state.

  

The National Weather Service said Tuesday that central Georgia could see wind gusts as high as 60 mph (97 kph), with the strongest winds south of Columbus and Macon. And rainfall in Georgia could range from 3-5 inches (8-13 centimeters), with locally higher amounts of up to 7 inches (18 centimeters).

  

The storm has strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane with top wind speeds of 100 mph (155 kph) and is expected to grow stronger before hitting the Florida coast Wednesday. Then it's expected to move over Alabama and Georgia Wednesday and the Carolinas and Virginia on Thursday.

  

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8:50 a.m.

  

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is warning that Hurricane Michael is a "massive storm" that could bring "total devastation" to parts of the state.

  

Scott activated 2,000 members of the Florida National Guard on Tuesday to deal with the fast-moving storm expected to hit the state within the next 24 hours.

  

The governor said he is very concerned about a potentially "historic" storm surge when Michael makes landfall somewhere in the Panhandle.

  

The threat has already prompted mandatory evacuation orders in counties across northwest Florida. Scott said some places could experience a storm surge of between eight and 12 feet of water as Michael blows ashore.

  

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8 a.m.

  

Hurricane Michael has strengthened into a Category 2 storm with top wind speeds of 100 mph (155 kph) as it continues its path toward the Florida Panhandle.

  

As of 8 a.m. Tuesday, the storm was moving north-northwestward over the southern Gulf of Mexico at about 12 mph (19 kph).

  

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the hurricane was 395 miles (635 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida, and 365 miles (590 kilometers) south of Apalachicola, Florida.

  

Mandatory evacuations are in effect along much of Florida's northern Gulf Coast, stretching from the Panhandle into the area known as the Big Bend.

  

Michael is forecast to hit the Florida coast Wednesday before moving over Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas Wednesday night and Thursday.

  

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7 a.m.

  

Mandatory evacuations are under way in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the Florida Panhandle as Hurricane Michael approaches.

  

The evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people near the beach and other areas of Bay County. During an emergency meeting of the Bay County Commission on Monday night, Sheriff Tommy Ford said people will "not be dragged out of their homes," but reminded those who stay that first responders may not be able to reach them once the storm hits.

  

Ford says "people need to start leaving now," adding that the roads are going to get "more and more congested as time goes on."

  

Commissioner Bill Dozier also reminded anyone staying behind to stock up on supplies and "don't expect the government to help take care of you. You need to take care of yourselves."

  

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Michael was centered about 420 miles (675 kilometers) south of Panama City at 5 a.m. Tuesday.

  

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5:00 a.m.

  

Hurricane Michael continues to gain strength as it moves through the southern Gulf of Mexico.

  

By 5 a.m. Tuesday, Michael's top sustained winds had risen some to 90 mph (144 kph) as it headed north at 12 mph (19 kph).

  

The Category 1 storm was centered about 390 miles (627 kilometers) south of Apalachicola and 420 miles (675 kilometers) south of Panama City, Florida. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 35 miles (56 kilometers) from the core and tropical-storm-force winds out 175 miles (280 kilometers). Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 40 miles (64 kilometers) from the core and tropical-storm-force winds out 195 miles (313.81 kilometers).

  

Forecasters say the center of Michael will continue to move over the southern Gulf of Mexico Tuesday morning. The storm will then move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico later Tuesday into the night.

  

The center is then expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Bend area on Wednesday, and then move northeastward across the southeastern United States Wednesday night and Thursday.

  

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12:00 a.m.

  

Michael has gained new strength over warm tropical waters and is forecast to quickly intensify into a major hurricane before a midweek landfall on Florida's Gulf Coast

  

In the Florida Panhandle and surrounding areas, people are frantically boarding up homes, filling sandbags and planning for evacuation routes away from the storm's projected strike zone.

  

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 could reach major hurricane status with winds topping 111 mph (179 kph) by Tuesday night.

  

Florida Gov. Rick Scott calls it a "monstrous hurricane" and is warning of a potentially devastating strike sometime Wednesday.

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