Hurricane Michael cranks up to a Category 2 storm

Hurricane Michael is seen as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico in this satellite image taken Monday

It's forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades, and it will send life-threatening surges of ocean water into coastal areas along the gulf. Residents are being urged to evacuate inland. Michael was forecast to push through warm, relatively shallow Gulf of Mexico waters before moving inland over the northern Gulf coast of Florida.

The hurricane center, citing Michael's risky trifecta of storm surge, flash flooding and winds, described the seventh hurricane of the Atlantic season as "life-threatening".

Floridians scurried to prepare after Gov. Rick Scott extended a state of emergency to 35 counties and activated 1,250 National Guardsmen for hurricane duty.

The Republican governor, who is campaigning for a US Senate seat in the November congressional elections, warned of the potential for a deadly storm surge that could be as much as 12 feet (3.7 meters) above normal sea water levels.

"You can not hide from storm surge, so. get out if an evacuation is ordered", he said.

Hurricane Michael continues to push towards the Gulf of Mexico and looks to continue its trend of rapidly strengthening.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 17 percent of daily U.S. crude oil output and 5 percent of daily natural gas output, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

In the Caribbean, a hurricane warning for the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio was downgraded to a tropical storm warning Tuesday morning, while a tropical storm warning was discontinued for the Isle of Youth. The storm's center is expected to move inland over the Florida Panhandle or Florida Big Ben area today before moving northeastward across the southeastern US tonight and tomorrow morning.

The Weather Service has already issued a tropical storm warning for the coast along Georgia and SC nearly as far north as Georgetown.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had numerous teams deployed and ready to respond, said FEMA spokesman Jeff Byard.

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Some 1,250 National Guard soldiers are helping residents in coastal areas to find safety, and another 4,000 are on standby, Mr Scott said.

President Donald Trump, speaking to reporters at the White House, said the country was very well prepared for the hurricane, adding it was much bigger than had been expected.

Florida State University has closed through Friday and the Pensacola International Airport is set to close Wednesday. Lines at gasoline stations were growing as people prepared to leave. "Now is the time for residents in south Alabama to review your emergency preparedness plans and also get prepared".

Some Panama City residents were seen on the beach enjoying the cool breeze ahead of the storm, while others were loading up cars with luggage and visitors were checking out of hotels.

"It's expected to become a Category 3 storm - a major hurricane".

Torrential downpours and flash flooding from the storm over the weekend caused 13 deaths in Central America.

As of 8 a.m. EDT, Michael was moving north-northwest at 12 mph and positioned about 365 miles south of Apalachicola, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph.

Although the forecast could change, there is no indication that the storm will deteriorate before making landfall. Officially, the National Hurricane Center predicts the hurricane will come ashore with 125mph winds on Wednesday afternoon, but as always with the poorly understood intensification process, there remains some uncertainty.

The Carolinas are still recovering from Hurricane Florence, which left dozens dead and is estimated to have caused billions of dollars in damage last month.

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