Residents of Florida’s Panhandle and Big Bend region are beginning to flee as Hurricane Michael barrels toward the Gulf of Mexico, where it's set to make make landfall Wednesday in what could become area’s most destructive storm in decades. But authorities say they're worried people aren't taking the evacuation orders seriously.
According to the National Hurricane Center’s most recent advisory, the Category 2 Hurricane is expected to first track the Panhandle and Big Bend area, before heading further inland to parts of Alabama and Georgia, and then up the southeastern Atlantic coast later in the week, possibly reaching the already storm-drenched Carolinas. Maximum sustained winds are currently around 110 mph, and experts caution the storm could strengthen to a Category 3 storm before it makes landfall near Panama City.
Partial evacuation orders have been made in 10 counties, affecting at least 120,000 residents, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in 35 counties according to USA Today. In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey issued a state of emergency, and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal also declared a state of emergency for 92 of the state’s 159 counties.
But despite their preparation, Tommy Ford, the sheriff of Bay County, Florida, said in a news conference Tuesday that he’s “not seeing the level of traffic” he had expected following the evacuation orders. He warned that “this is not a typical storm,” and pleaded for more people to leave the county.
The storm — potentially the area’s worst since Hurricane Eloise in 1975 — is expected to drench some of the poorest and most vulnerable communities in the Panhandle and Big Bend region, according to the Naples Daily News. And because a chunk of the state’s economy relies on tourism, local economies could be devastated if the otherwise pristine beach fronts are battered.
Much like Hurricane Florence, which drenched the Carolinas last month, the concern with Hurricane Michael is that it will threaten the coasts with buckets of rainfall and a dangerous storm surge, leaving behind stagnant flooding long after the storm sputters out. By late last week, more than 600 people were still living in 11 Red Cross shelters in southeastern North Carolina, according to the Raleigh News & Observer.
Hurricane Michael could bring a storm surge of up to 12 feet, and some isolated areas of the Florida Panhandle, southeast Alabama and southern Georgia could see up to 12 inches of rain, according to the National Hurricane Center. The National Weather Service anticipates “life-threatening storm surge” along more than 325 miles of Florida’s coastline. Coastal flooding may occur before the hurricane makes landfall
And after the storm hits, as many as 2.5 million people could be left without power, according to a forecast model developed by the University of Michigan.
Cover image: PORT ST. JOE, FL - OCTOBER 09: Al Smith puts plywood over a window as he prepares a building for the arrival of hurricane Michael on October 9, 2018 in Port St. Joe, Florida. The hurricane is forecast to hit the Florida Panhandle at a possible category 3 storm. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)