Authorities have warned that Hurricane Michael is likely to become a “monstrous” major storm by Tuesday night before it smashes into Florida on Wednesday. Forecasters fear it will bring “life-threatening” storm surges and flash flooding – and potentially even tornadoes.
States of emergency have been declared for swathes of Florida and Alabama as the storm pounded the Gulf of Mexico and eastern Carribean with winds up to 90mph – which are expected to hit 111mph before Michael makes landfall in northern Florida.
The National Hurricane Centre warned of storms surges up to 12ft and issued a string of alerts for coastal sites. On the Panhandle, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan advised residents that “if you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you ... there’s no-one that can respond to help you”.
Governor Rick Scott called Michael a “monstrous hurricane” with a devastating potential from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains.
Mr Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 Florida counties from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members and waived tolls to encourage those near the coast to evacuate inland.
Kay Ivey, the governor of Alabama, put the entire state under an emergency declaration and said she feared widespread power outages and other problems from the storm.
Cuba is currently bracing for heavy rain and winds from Michael.
It comes just a few weeks after Hurricane Florence devastated parts of the Carolinas with a deluge of rain and massive storm surges.
We'll have live updates tomorrow as the weather event makes landfall.
Additional reporting by agencies
Human activity is making natural disasters unnaturally harmful, experts now believe. Human-induced climate change is increasing the destructive potential of hurricanes while we continue to build homes in at-risk areas.
The Independent will be covering the approach of Hurricane Michael with live updates.
Michael is expected to hit the Florida coast on Wednesday morning. Emergency declarations have been issued for 35 counties as well as the entire state of Alabama.
Law enforcement warned people who planned to ride out the storm at home that help may not be able to reach them in the immediate aftermath.
Here is the latest projection from the NHC setting out Michael's expected path.
Alexander Charnicharo fishes on Havana's Malecón sea wall as Hurricane Michael passes by western Cuba, 8 October (Reuters)
Forecasters have warned Hurricane Michael could dump up to 30cm of rain in western Cuba, possibly causing flash floods and mudslides in mountainous areas.
Elsewhere, disaster agencies in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have reported 13 deaths after roofs collapsed and residents were carried away by swollen rivers following heavy rains.
Six people have died in Honduras, four in Nicaragua and three in El Salvador. Authorities were also searching for a boy swept away by a river in Guatemala.
Most of the rain was blamed on a low-pressure system off the Pacific coast of El Salvador, though it is thought Hurricane Michael in the Caribbean could have also contributed.
Florida's governor, Rick Scott, warned caregivers at north Florida hospitals and nursing homes to do everything they could to ensure the safety of the elderly and infirm.
After Hurricane Irma last year, 14 people died when a south Florida nursing home lost power and air conditioning. "If you're responsible for a patient, you're responsible for the patient. Take care of them," he said.
The National Weather Service has said Michael is expected to be a "large and dangerous" hurricane when it makes landfall on Wednesday.
The agency's Tallahassee, FL, station, warned locals that their preparations for the storm should be complete by the end of Tuesday morning.
Rick Scott has given an update on the preparations officials are making for the hurricane.
If Michael does make landfall with 111mph winds it would be a Category 3 hurricane, the strongest to hit Florida in decades.
After striking Florida, Michael is forecast to move up the east coast on Wednesday and Thursday, hitting North and South Carolina which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month .
Energy companies stopped nearly a fifth of Gulf of Mexico oil production and evacuated personnel from 10 platforms on Monday.
The region produces some 17 per cent of daily US crude oil output and 5 per cent of daily natural gas output, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
Authorities have warned of Michael's potential to be a storm of "historic" proportions.
In the small Panhandle city of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson said its 2,300 residents were frantically preparing for a major hurricane strike that could be unlike any seen there in decades.
Many were filling sandbags and boarding up their homes. Residents also lined up to buy petrol and groceries even as evacuations — both voluntary and mandatory — were expected to gather pace on Tuesday.
"We're looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I've seen in my 59 years of life," Mr Johnson said of the city, which straddles the shore of Apalachicola Bay, a Gulf of Mexico inlet where about 90 per cent of Florida's oysters are harvested.
Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying coastal areas in Gulf, Wakulla and Bay counties.
In a Facebook post on Monday, the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said no shelters would be open because they were rated safe only for hurricanes with sustained winds below 111mph.
"This storm has the potential to be a historic storm, please take heed," the sheriff's office said.
Here is moving imagery of Hurricane Michael from the National Weather Service.
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