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Friday December 14th, 2018 11:32PM

The Latest: Hurricane came too fast for many to evacuate

By The Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, Florida (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Michael (all times Eastern):

4:20 p.m.

A Red Cross official says it's possible that as many as 320,000 people on Florida's Gulf Coast did not evacuate and are likely riding out the storm.

Evacuation orders were sent by state and local officials to about 325,000 people. Emergency managers say they don't know how many left the area, but there were about 6,000 people in 80 shelters in five states, including nearly 1,200 who are still in shelters following Hurricane Florence.

Michael went from a tropical storm to a projected Category 3 hurricane in around six hours and could have caught thousands off guard.

Brad Kieserman is the Vice President of Operations and Logistics for the American Red Cross. He says the storm "intensified extremely quickly and didn't give anyone enough time to do much."

___

3:30 p.m.

The director of the National Hurricane Center says Michael is going to keep its strength even as it moves into Alabama and Georgia.

By 3 p.m. EDT, Michael still had top sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph) as its core moved over Florida's Panhandle.

Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, earlier Wednesday afternoon with 155 mph (250 kph) winds.

Hurricane center director Ken Graham says that when a storm comes ashore with winds that strong, "it's going to stay a hurricane for a while."

Michael's large size means its winds will continue pushing storm surge inland as well. The hurricane center said a National Ocean Service water level station in Apalachicola has reported storm surge of nearly 8 feet (2.5 meters) above ground.

___

3:05 p.m.

Officials in South Carolina say they are more concerned about tornadoes than flooding from Hurricane Michael.

The National Weather Service says tornadoes are possible across the Florida Panhandle, southeast Georgia and southern South Carolina through Thursday morning as Michael moves inland.

Beaufort County Emergency Management Division Commander Neil Baxley says the tornadoes can spin up fast with little warning in the rainbands of the weakening hurricane.

South Carolina saw 47 tornadoes in two days in 2004 as Tropical Storm Frances move north from the Florida Panhandle.

Baxley says the 1-to-2-foot (0.3 to 0.6 meter) storm surge predicted for areas like Hilton Head Island isn't even enough to trigger a warning.

Along with tornadoes, forecasters are warning of flash flooding from heavy rain and trees and power lines knocked down by gusty winds.

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3 p.m.

Authorities say lifeguards had to save three children who were playing in the ocean at a South Carolina beach as Hurricane Michael approached.

Beaufort County Emergency Management Division Commander Neil Baxley said a 15-year-old and two 9-year-olds were on boogie boards off Hilton Head Island around 12:15 p.m. Wednesday when the waves quickly started to pull them from shore.

Baxley says rescuers were able to make it to the children and bring them to safety.

Baxley said at a news conference there is no reason to be in the ocean Wednesday.

Beaufort County is under a tropical storm warning as Michael makes landfall about 325 miles (520 kilometers) southwest in the Florida Panhandle.

___

2:10 p.m.

Local news reporters were working in the dark as Hurricane Michael made landfall in Florida's Panhandle.

The News Herald in Panama City tweeted that conditions were "getting very nasty here" as the hurricane's eye closed in. The newsroom was running on generator power without internet access.

The newspaper tweeted that reporters were feeling "crashing thunder shaking building."

At the Panama City news station WJHG/WECP, reporter Tyler Allender tweeted that his colleagues were taking shelter in a hallway in the middle of the building because "this wind is SERIOUS."

Allender said they were sitting in the dark because their building had lost power.

___

1:45 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Michael is making landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, as a catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane, pushing a deadly storm surge and whipping the coast with 155 mph (250 kph) winds.

Forecasters mark landfall as the place and time when the center of the eye strikes land. Minutes earlier, Michael's eyewall came ashore between Panama City and St. Vincent Island, and the hurricane center warned everyone inside the relative calm of the eye not to venture outside.

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles (75 km) from the center.

Those winds were tearing some buildings apart in Panama City Beach. One beachfront structure under construction could be seen collapsing, and metal roofing material flew sideways across parking lots amid sheets of rain.

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1 p.m.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Hurricane Michael is "unlike any storm that we have had in anybody's memory."

He says this one will inflict serious damage across central and southern Georgia, and he's calling on people to protect themselves, their families, and anyone who needs assistance.

More than 1,200 evacuees are staying in Georgia state parks, which are waiving entrance fees for those seeking shelter.

The storm also is expected to ravage the state's peanut, pecan and cotton crops.

___

12:50 p.m.

U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Michael is "a hurricane of the worst kind."

He said there are about 3,000 FEMA employees in the field, plus aircraft and search and rescue teams staged to move into Florida and Georgia as well.

"The citizens in Georgia need to wake up and pay attention," Long said. He says this hurricane will likely be the worst storm that anyone in southwest and central Georgia will have seen in decades.

Long applauded local officials who urged evacuations, and said "people are going to die as a result of not heeding the warnings."

___

12:30 p.m.

President Donald Trump is being briefed on Hurricane Michael as it closes in on the Florida Panhandle with potentially catastrophic 150 mph winds.

Trump is warning of the power of the storm as he meets with his Homeland Security Secretary and the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long.

Long is describing the storm as a "Gulf Coast hurricane of the worst kind," which he says will be similar in strength to "an EF3 tornado making landfall."

Trump says he spoke with Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday and says the federal government is coordinating with all of the states that could be impacted.

The Category 4 storm could be most powerful storm on record ever to hit the region. More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast have been warned to evacuate.

___

12:15 p.m.

Thousands of people along Florida's northern Gulf Coast have heeded warnings to evacuate, and many are cramming into high schools put to use as shelters.

Diane Farris and her son Waine Hall walked to the shelter nearest their home in Panama City, Rutherford High School, and found about 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many.

She says the cafeteria and gym are full so they're putting people in the hallways and and almost every room.

And she says more people are coming every minute.

Farris says she's terrified about predictions of "the big one" and desperate to know where her relatives are.

Another shelter resident, Michigan native Pamela Cowley, says she's nervous because people are saying they could go weeks without electricity.

___

Noon:

Hurricane Michael will weaken once its core hits land and stops drawing strength from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

But forecasters say it won't dissipate quickly. In fact, Michael is expected to whip parts of Alabama and Georgia with hurricane-force winds as it travels north.

The National Hurricane Center expects Michael to hold tropical storm strength through Thursday as it crosses the Carolinas.

Forecasters say Michael should re-emerge over the Atlantic Ocean on Friday and regain some strength as it moves away from the U.S. coast.

Tropical storm warnings and a storm-surge watch were extended Wednesday morning to North Carolina's barrier islands.

___

11:45 a.m.

Hurricane Michael is still getting stronger as it closes in on Florida's Gulf Coast, with top winds growing to nearly 150 mph (240 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says data from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicates that the minimum pressure inside the eye of the hurricane is still dropping, down to 923 millibars.

Hurricane Michael's center is now less than 50 miles off the coast, with hurricane-force gusts reaching the shore.

___

11:25 a.m.

Hurricane Michael isn't the only storm gaining strength in the tropics.

Fortunately, the National Hurricane Center says the other two tropical weather systems over the Atlantic Ocean are no threat to land.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Hurricane Leslie had top sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) about 1,130 miles (1,820 kilometers) southwest of the Azores. And Tropical Storm Nadine had top sustained winds of 65 mph (100 kph) about 505 miles (815 kilometers) off the Cabo Verde Islands.

Meanwhile, authorities have issued a tropical storm watch for a stretch of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula, where Tropical Storm Sergio is forecast to arrive later this week. The Hurricane Center says the storm threatens heavy rainfall in northwestern Mexico and then the U.S. Southern Plains and the Ozarks over the weekend.

___

11:15 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Michael appears "extremely impressive" in satellite imagery as the storm barrels toward Florida's Panhandle.

At 11 a.m. EDT, Michael had top sustained winds of 145 mph (230 kph) and was about 60 miles (95 kilometers) offshore, moving north-northeast toward Panama City at 14 mph (22 kph).

Senior Hurricane Specialist Dan Brown said in a forecast discussion that Michael still had a few more hours to strengthen over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico before it makes landfall Wednesday afternoon.

Brown said Michael also will bring hurricane-force winds well inland over Florida, Alabama and Georgia.

Wind gusts of 46 mph (74 kph) already have been felt in Florida's capital city of Tallahassee, a couple dozen miles (40 kilometers) from the coast.

___

10:50 a.m.

North Carolina's governor has declared a state of emergency ahead of Hurricane Michael.

The storm's path is forecast to run through the state where many are still reeling after last month's Hurricane Florence.

Gov. Roy Cooper says he's called up 150 National Guard troops and lifted restrictions on trucks that could deliver supplies to the state.

Officials have said that Michael isn't expected to cause the same kind of river flooding as Florence. But Cooper said that Michael could bring up to 7 inches of rain to parts of the state, which could cause flash-flooding. He urged people in flood-prone areas to watch forecasts and heed any evacuation orders.

Cooper said tropical storm-force winds will likely arrive overnight into Thursday, and that the wind and rain could further damage tarped houses where people are working to rebuild.

___

10:30 a.m.

The storm surge from Hurricane Michael has come ashore and is growing deeper.

According to a National Hurricane Center update, a National Ocean Service water level station at Apalachicola reported over 4 feet (1 meter) of inundation above ground level by mid-morning Wednesday. Forecasters have said the hurricane could push up to 14 feet (4 meters) of ocean water ashore in Apalachicola, surging over normal tides.

Waves are already gnawing away at the base of sand dunes at Panama City Beach.

Officials are upset that holdouts will soon be surrounded by water. About 50 people resisted evacuating from St. George Island, and two people on Dog Island, which is only accessible by boat, also ignored evacuation orders. Franklin County emergency management coordinator Tress Dameron told The News Herald in Panama City that people who stayed better be wearing their life jackets.

___

9:50 a.m.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered 1,500 National Guard troops on standby, ready for deployment as needed as Hurricane Michael blows in. Hurricanes weaken after landfall, but Michael is a catastrophic Category 4 storm and is expected to remain a hurricane as it ploughs over Georgia.

Transportation officials are already anticipating gale-force winds by closing the main bridge over the Savannah River between Savannah and South Carolina. The Georgia Department of Transportation said the Talmadge Memorial Bridge on U.S. 17 will close at 9 p.m. Wednesday, because it will be too difficult for motorists to control their vehicles in such conditions.

South Alabama is another inland area that won't be spared. Alabama's Geneva County has announced a curfew beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and the local emergency management agency has urged people to voluntarily evacuate from mobile homes and other places that could be unstable in the storm's high winds.

___

9:30 a.m.

FEMA Director Brock Long says his agency has nearly 3,000 people in the field ready to assist with Hurricane Michael.

He says teams and aircraft are ready to support any search and rescue missions in Florida or elsewhere, and that staging areas with commodities needed after storms have been set up in Atlanta and at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

He also says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working "hand-in-hand" with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. He praised Florida's use on Tuesday evening of the wireless emergency alert system to let residents know that the storm was getting stronger.

As for the many people who ignored orders to evacuate, Long said Wednesday that people "who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don't usually live to tell about it."

___

9:25 a.m.

National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham is warning that a Category 4 hurricane will bring catastrophic damage to Florida's Panhandle.

Graham says Michael's top winds of 145 mph (230 kph) are powerful enough to peel off roofs and cause the "complete destruction of houses."

Stretches of the coast could see storm surge of at least 6 feet (2 meters), with waters rising in some places up to 14 feet (4 meters) above the ground. Graham wants people to think about how tall they are, and just how high that water can be.

Michael is powerful enough to remain a hurricane well inland as it travels over Georgia on Thursday. Graham says falling trees will pull down utility lines, leaving some areas without power for weeks, and hazardous conditions will persist long after the storm blows through.

He says the aftermath of a hurricane is "not the time to start learning to use that chain saw."

___

9:15 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says the impact of Hurricane Michael will be "horrible," the worst storm to hit the Panhandle in a century.

Scott said Wednesday he's "scared to death" that people in places such as St. George Island along the state's coast had ignored evacuation orders.

He said he hopes that no one kept children with them as they chose to ride it out, but the time to evacuate from coastal areas has "come and gone."

The governor said state authorities are now focusing on the recovery effort once the fast-moving storm blows through. He has activated up 3,500 members of the Florida National Guard and says thousands of utility workers are on stand-by.

___

9:05 a.m.

Huge waves are pounding the shore at Panama City Beach, where officials have announced they are now unable to respond to any calls for service. Just inland in Panama City, the fire department says it will respond to only life-threatening emergencies and only within the city limits.

The biggest waves are shooting frothy green water between homes and up to the base of wooden stairs over the dunes and the skies appear menacing as tropical-storm-force winds lash the coast. Landfall is expected about midday Wednesday.

___

8:25 a.m.

Michael is now a Category 4 hurricane and so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over central Georgia early Thursday. Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has issued a state of emergency for 92 of the state's 159 counties.

A hurricane warning is effect in southwestern Georgia. A tropical storm warning is in effect for the entire Georgia coast, as well as much of the inland areas.

Between 4 inches (10 centimeters) and 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain are expected in southwest and central Georgia. From 3 inches (8 centimeters) to 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain is expected in other parts of the state.

The National Weather Service said winds are expected to range from 25 mph (40 kph) to 45 mph (72 kph) in central Georgia, with gusts as high as 70 mph (112 kph).

___

8 a.m.

Hurricane Michael is strengthening as it races over the Gulf of Mexico approaching a landfall along Florida's Panhandle.

Forecasters say deadly storm surge, catastrophic wind damage and heavy rainfall are imminent.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the Category 4 storm has maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (230 kph) and is moving at 13 mph (20 kph).

At 8 a.m., Michael was centered about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Panama City, with tropical storm force winds already lashing the coast.

The hurricane center says Michael will be the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on the Florida Panhandle.

___

7:45 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is warning people in the path of massive Hurricane Michael that it's too late to evacuate.

In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Scott said "If you chose to state in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY."

Hurricane Michael grew into a Category 4 storm overnight and officials at the National Hurricane Center in Miami say a storm that strong has never hit the Florida Panhandle.

Meanwhile the Bay County Sheriff's Office warned residents that a "shelter-in-place" order has been issued, and urged everyone to stay off the roads. Sheriff's officials say deputies will continue to respond to calls for now, but that will change as the storm approaches the coastline.

___

7:15 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says Hurricane Michael would be the first Category 4 storm to hit Florida's Panhandle.

In a Facebook post, NHC spokesman Dennis Feltgen said "we are in new territory with now Hurricane Michael and its 130 mph sustained winds."

Feltgen says Bay County is the likely "ground zero" for Hurricane Michael on Wednesday afternoon.

The outer bands of the massive storm are beginning to reach the Gulf Coast. At 7 a.m. the center of the storm was about 105 miles (165 kilometers) south-southwest of Panama City.

A NOAA buoy located some 90 miles south-southwest of Panama City recorded sustained winds of 76 mph (122 kmh) early Wednesday. Forecasters also said a wind gust of 54 mph (87 kph) was reported at Apalachicola Regional Airport.

___

5:30 a.m.

Some of the worst storm surge from Category 4 Hurricane Michael is expected to hit Florida's Tyndall Air Force Base, which has ordered all non-essential personnel to evacuate.

The National Hurricane Center's latest forecast shows as much as 13 feet of water on top of the usual waves and tides could inundate the base, which is home to more than 600 families and on an island about 12 miles east of Panama City.

All base residents were ordered to leave when Tyndall moved to "HURCON 1" status as the storm closes in.

The base provided transportation but limited families to one large piece of luggage per family and one carry-on piece per person.

Tyndall is home to the 325th Fighter Wing.

___

5 a.m.

Hurricane Michael is an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm and still growing stronger as it closes in on the northwest Florida coast.

Reports from an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter aircraft indicate that maximum sustained winds have increased to near 140 mph (220 kph) with higher gusts.

At 5 a.m., the center of the hurricane was bearing down on a stretch of the Florida Panhandle, still about 140 miles (225 kilometers) from Panama City and 130 miles (209 kilometers) from Apalachicola, but moving relatively fast at 13 mph (21 kph). Tropical-storm force winds extending 185 miles (295 kilometers) from the center were already lashing the coast.

Forecasters are warning of life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic wind damage and heavy rainfall as the hurricane moves onshore.

___

2:10 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Michael has become an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm.

At 2:00 a.m. Wednesday, the eye of Michael was about 180 miles (289 kilometers) south-southwest of Panama City, Florida. It also was about 170 miles (273 kilometers) southwest of Apalachicola, Florida. Hurricane-force winds extend outward up to 45 miles (72 kilometers) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 175 miles (281 kilometers).

Michael was expected to become one of the Panhandle's worst hurricanes in memory with a life-threatening storm surge of up to 13 feet (4 meters).

Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida.

___

12:30 a.m.

Hurricane Michael is roaring down on the Florida Panhandle, gaining strength so quickly that forecasters expect it to become a Category 4 monster once it slams into the white-sand beaches, fishing villages and coastal communities.

The brute storm that sprang from a weekend tropical depression gained in fury and size just hours ahead of Wednesday's projected midday landfall, packed 125 mph (200 kph) winds as a dangerous Category 3 storm. Forecasters say it's expected to keep strengthening in the final hours before it crashes ashore as potentially one of the worst hurricanes in the region's history.

Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida.

___

For more of the latest on Hurricane Michael, visit https://www.apnews.com/tag/Hurricanes

  • Associated Categories: Local/State News, Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, AP Business, AP Online - Georgia News
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