Strong winds, heavy rain possible in Columbia from Hurricane Michael

A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Michael churning toward the Florida Panhandle in the Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 7 2018

Energy companies on Monday halted almost a fifth of Gulf of Mexico oil production and evacuated staff from 13 platforms as Hurricane Michael intensified and headed for a path up the eastern U.S. Gulf.

Scott said his main concern from the rapidly developing hurricane is storm surge, which the National Weather Service estimates could reach eight to 12 feet between Indian Pass in Gulf County and Cedar Key in Levy County and top six feet from Crystal River in Citrus County to the Okaloosa-Walton County Line.

On its current track, Michael will move across the eastern Gulf of Mexico throughout Tuesday and then move inland over the Panhandle or Big Bend area of Florida on Wednesday, according to the hurricane center.

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. It strengthened to a Category 3 storm late Tuesday afternoon.

The National Hurricane Center says the storm is centered about 60 miles (100 kilometers) off the western tip of Cuba, and about 485 miles (785 kilometers) south of Apalachicola, Florida.

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses. Michael is forecast to retain at least tropical storm strength as it crosses Georgia and the Carolinas, so Michael's overall wind swath could be broad.

Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and sandbag their properties against the fast-moving hurricane, which was expected to blow ashore around midday Wednesday along a relatively lightly populated stretch of shoreline known for its fishing villages and white-sand spring-break beaches.

Hurricane Michael suddenly became news on Monday after eclipsing its former tropical-storm status while lashing Cuba. "Take care of them", he said.

There will be no shelters open in Wakulla County, the sheriff's office warned on Facebook, because they are rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 miles per hour.

Gillum said Monday that officials initially thought, "we will have outages and it will be inconvenient". "It's forecast to be a large and unsafe hurricane at landfall".

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Scott, after getting a briefing at 8 a.m.at the State Emergency Operations Center, urged people who plan to evacuate to do so Tuesday morning, as he continued to expand the activation of the Florida National Guard in advance of Michael's landfall.

The Panhandle, from Pensacola to Apalachicola, will experience the most significant effects from the hurricane.

"We've been through this before", Sally Crown said she closed the cafe where she works because the city was shutting off the sewer system in anticipation of the storm.

It took a federal judge's order two years ago to extend Florida's voter registration deadline due to the disruption caused by Hurricane Matthew.

Michael is also predicted to be the strongest hurricane based on wind speed to hit continental U.S. landfall this year.

In Georgia, which will be hit by damaging winds and downed power lines, Gov. Nathan Deal on Tuesday declared a state of emergency for 92 of his state's counties.

Forecasters say Hurricane Michael has strengthened into a major hurricane with winds of 120 miles per hour.

Rainfall of four to eight inches, and as much as a foot in isolated areas, "could lead to life-threatening flash floods", according to the NHC, which also warned that the storm's approach could spawn tornados in north-western Florida.

The sheriff's office says Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes below that threshold.

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