Storm strengthens to hurricane, tracks away from Cayman

Hurricane Michael forms in gulf Lowcountry impact expected later this week

It is now a category 1 hurricane but may reach category 3 with winds over 160 km/h before it hits the USA coast, possibly on Wednesday, making it one of the most powerful storms to hit the Panhandle of Florida in decades.

Rick Scott issued a state of emergency for 26 counties, in order to free up resources and put the Florida National Guard on notice.

Residents of Florida's Panhandle frantically filled sandbags, boarded up homes and secured boats Monday as they anxiously awaited Hurricane Michael, which forecasters warned could smash into the state's Gulf Coast as a unsafe major hurricane within days.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida's Democratic nominee for governor, had planned to campaign in South Florida on Monday and Tuesday, but instead threw himself into helping his city's residents fill sandbags and make other preparations. The storm was about 145 miles (230 km) northeast of Cozumel, Mexico, with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), forecasters said.

"Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades", Scott said.

"South Carolina could experience periods of heavy rain, gusty winds, tornadoes and storm surge due to Hurricane Michael, with the greatest impacts beginning this Wednesday", the S.C. Emergency Management Division (SCEMD) advised in a tweet.

It was moving north around 9 miles per hour.

In the storm's wake, the NHC said, "Michael is expected to produce heavy rainfall and flash flooding over portions of western Cuba and the northeastern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico during the next couple of days". After four days, hurricane experts say, the system should diminish and move off the mid-Atlantic coast.

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Scott extended a state of emergency to 35 counties and activated 2,500 National Guardsmen. This will likely be a storm with the worst impacts seen overnight on Wednesday. "You can not hide from storm surge, so get out if an evacuation is ordered".

By the time Michael reaches the Carolinas, it will be a weakening tropical storm.

In neighboring Alabama, Governor Kay Ivey declared an emergency for the entire state on Monday, anticipating wind damage, heavy rains and power outages.

With Florence still in mind, Michael may be making an appearance this week.

Mandatory evacuations are underway for Citrus County residents living in Zone A, or in mobile homes.

Michael's trek to Florida is also affecting politics in the state. Storm surge could reach heights of 6 to 9 feet from the Okaloosa-Walton County line to Mexico Beach and from Keaton Beach to Cedar Key.

A hurricane warning was issued from the Alabama-Florida border eastward to Suwannee River.

Though Michael has a fierce core of winds around its eye, one of the biggest concerns with its eventual landfall is the storm surge likely to come in points east of wherever the hurricane's eye makes landfall.

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