Hurricane Michael reaches Category 2, threatens southern US

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Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said he's "not seeing the level of traffic" he would expect when three-quarters of the county's residents are under mandatory and voluntary evacuation orders.

By 5 a.m. Tuesday, Michael's top sustained winds had risen some to 90 miles per hour (144 kph) as it headed north at 12 miles per hour (19 kph).

Hurricane Michael is threatening more than 300 miles of the Gulf Coast, prompting emergency declarations in more than 35 counties from Mobile, Alabama through the Florida Panhandle and into the state's Big Bend region.

These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

"We're looking at a significant storm with significant impact, possibly greater than I've seen in my 59 years of life", Johnson said of the city, straddling the shore of Apalachicola Bay, a Gulf of Mexico inlet that reaps about 90 percent of Florida's oysters.

Producing heavy rainfall and strong winds, Michael is moving north-northwestward at 12 miles per hour.

Because of this threat of power outages, Horry County spokeswoman Kelly Moore said residents should make sure they're prepared to be without electricity.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to 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.

5pm ET Tuesday forecast track for Hurricane Michael. As a result, the northeastern Gulf Coast is undergoing mandatory evacuations - that includes the Florida Panhandle (stretching into Big Bend) as well as parts of southeast Alabama and southern Georgia.

Gov. Roy Cooper said Tuesday that Michael isn't expected to hit his state as hard as Florence did last month, but people shouldn't let their guard down, even if they're suffering from cleanup fatigue. Forecasters warned of up to a foot (30 centimeters) of rain in western Cuba, triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas.

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The Federal Emergency Management Agency had numerous teams deployed and ready to respond, said FEMA spokesman Jeff Byard. Some 13,000 utility restoration workers were also on standby. Those who stayed emptied grocery store shelves of water and other supplies.

Michael looks likely to provide extra moisture to an incoming fall system late this week. He said tolls were being suspended in the state's northwest region to ease the evacuation process, and the Florida Highway Patrol is sending almost 350 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas.

"I think that hopefully we'll get lucky, but maybe that won't happen", Trump said.

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.

This would make it the strongest storm to hit the Panhandle of the state since Hurricane Dennis in 2005.

In an 8 a.m. update Tuesday, National Hurricane Center forecasters said Michael had strengthened to a Cat 2 storm with sustained winds of 100 miles per hour after appearing to take a brief pause in strengthening overnight, likely due to dry air and upper level wind shear.

The Weather Service warned that coast flooding is expected with each high tide.

"We saw hardly any requests for critical commodities, local officials were still debating whether or not to close businesses and schools, and we barely heard anything regarding sheltering considerations", Maul wrote, adding the state had been "absolutely prepared" for those requests.

A hurricane warning is in effect from the Suwannee River on Florida's Gulf Coast west to the Alabama / Florida line.