Flor­ida on emer­gency foot­ing for Michael

Rome News-Tribune - - NEWS - By Jen­nifer Kay and Gary Fi­ne­out

MI­AMI — Hur­ri­cane Michael gained new strength Mon­day and is ex­pected to keep grow­ing stronger ahead of an ex­pected mid­week strike on Flor­ida's Pan­han­dle, fore­cast­ers said.

Michael could be­come a ma­jor hur­ri­cane with winds top­ping 111 mph by Tues­day night be­fore the an­tic­i­pated land­fall Wed­nes­day on the Pan­han­dle or Big Bend, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter.

Since the storm will spend two to three days over the Gulf of Mex­ico, which has very warm wa­ter tem­per­a­tures and fa­vor­able at­mo­spheric con­di­tions, "there is a real pos­si­bil­ity that Michael will strengthen to a ma­jor hur­ri­cane be­fore land­fall," Rob­bie Berg, a hur­ri­cane spe­cial­ist at the Mi­ami-based storm fore­cast­ing hub, wrote in an ad­vi­sory.

Michael's large size, strong winds and heavy rains could pro­duce haz­ardous flood­ing along a stretch of Flor­ida's Gulf coast with many rivers and es­tu­ar­ies where sea­wa­ter pushed ashore by a hur­ri­cane could get trapped, said Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter Di­rec­tor Ken Gra­ham.

"This is a part of the Gulf of Mex­ico that is in­cred­i­bly vul­ner­a­ble to storm surge," Gra­ham said.

Parts of Flor­ida's curvy Big Bend could see up to 12 feet of storm surge, while Michael also could dump up to a foot of rain over some Pan­han­dle com­mu­ni­ties as it moves in­land, fore­cast­ers said.

Manda­tory evac­u­a­tion or­ders were is­sued for res­i­dents of bar­rier is­lands, mo­bile homes and low­ly­ing coastal ar­eas in Gulf, Wakulla and Bay coun­ties.

In a Face­book post Mon­day, the Wakulla County Sher­iff's Of­fice said no shel­ters would be open be­cause Wakulla County shel­ters were rated safe only for hur­ri­canes with top sus­tained winds be­low 111 mph. With Michael's winds pro­jected to be even stronger than that, Wakulla County res­i­dents were urged to evac­u­ate in­land.

"This storm has the po­ten­tial to be a his­toric storm, please take heed," the sher­iff's of­fice said in the post.

A large mound of sand in Tal­la­has­see was whit­tled down to a small pile within hours Mon­day as res­i­dents filled sand­bags to pre­pare for po­ten­tial flood­ing. A cou­ple brew­eries in the city of­fered free fil­tered wa­ter to any­one bring­ing in growlers, jugs or other con­tain­ers.

"All in­di­ca­tions are that it's go­ing to be se­vere," said City Com­mis­sioner Gil Zif­fer, adding that if the storm hits Flor­ida's cap­i­tal, there would be sig­nif­i­cant tree dam­age and power out­ages. "Hope­fully we will have no one hurt and no loss of life."

Two years ago, Hur­ri­cane Her­mine knocked out power for days in Tal­la­has­see and caused wide­spread flood­ing as it came up through the Gulf Coast. Ann Beaver was among the three-quar­ters of city res­i­dents who lost power af­ter that storm. She was pre­par­ing Mon­day for a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence.

"I don't want to lose ev­ery­thing in the freezer, but it is what is," said Beaver as she loaded sand­bags into her fam­ily's pickup truck.

Tal­la­has­see Mayor An­drew Gil­lum, who is the Demo­cratic nom­i­nee for gover­nor, had planned to cam­paign in South Flor­ida on Mon­day and Tues­day, but he said he would re­turn to the city to help with storm prepa­ra­tions.

Flor­ida State Uni­ver­sity and Leon County schools can­celed classes from Tues­day through Fri­day.

Far­ther west along Flor­ida's Pan­han­dle, the city of Pen­sacola tweeted to res­i­dents, "Be sure you have your emer­gency plan in place."

By 5 p.m. Mon­day, Michael's top sus­tained winds were around 80 mph as it headed north at 9 mph.

The storm was cen­tered about 30 miles off the west­ern tip of Cuba, and about 520 miles south of Apalachicola, Flor­ida. Hur­ri­cane-force winds ex­tend out­ward up to 35 miles from the storm's cen­ter and trop­i­cal-storm-force winds ex­tend out­ward up to 175 miles.

Michael was lash­ing west­ern Cuba late Mon­day morn­ing with heavy rains and strong winds, ac­cord­ing to the hur­ri­cane cen­ter. Fore­cast­ers warned that the storm could pro­duce up to a foot of rain in west­ern Cuba, po­ten­tially trig­ger­ing flash floods and mud­slides in moun­tain­ous ar­eas.

Flor­ida Gov. Rick Scott has is­sued an or­der for a state of emer­gency for 35 coun­ties, from the Pan­han­dle through to Tampa Bay, free­ing up re­sources and ac­ti­vat­ing 500 mem­bers of the Flor­ida Na­tional Guard. He urged res­i­dents to quickly wrap up fi­nal storm prepa­ra­tions Mon­day, call­ing it a "mon­strous storm" with great de­struc­tive po­ten­tial. He also waived tolls in a move to help coastal dwellers leave.

Also Mon­day, Gov. Kay Ivey in neigh­bor­ing Alabama signed an emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion for her en­tire state, in an­tic­i­pa­tion of wide­spread power out­ages, wind dam­age and heavy rain.

Aside from caus­ing power out­ages, flood­ing and prop­erty dam­age, Michael could also worsen a toxic al­gae bloom that has plagued Flor­ida's beaches for a year. The red tide in the Gulf of Mex­ico off south­west Flor­ida that be­gan last Oc­to­ber af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma swept up the state has killed mas­sive amounts of marine life and caused res­pi­ra­tory ir­ri­ta­tions in peo­ple. The bloom has spread to Flor­ida's Pan­han­dle and the Mi­ami area.

/ AP-Gary Fi­ne­out

Tal­la­has­see Mayor and Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial can­di­date, An­drew Gil­lum, left, helps Eboni Si­pling fill up sand­bags in Tal­la­has­see, Fla., on Mon­day. Res­i­dents in Flor­ida’s Pan­han­dle and Big Bend are get­ting ready for Hur­ri­cane Michael, which is ex­pected to make land­fall by mid­week.

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