Around midday it was expected to become one of the Panhandle's worst hurricanes in memory with heavy rainfall expected along the northeastern Gulf Coast and life-threatening storm surge of up to 13 feet (4 metres). "If they tell you to leave, you have to leave".
Michael has strengthened to a major hurricane with wind speeds of 120 miles per hour as it churns across the eastern Gulf of Mexico, according to the latest advisory from the National Hurricane Center.
NHC's Graham warned that the storm would continue to pack tropical storm-force winds when it reached the Carolinas, still reeling from severe flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence last month.
"Hurricane Michael is a massive storm that could bring total devastation to parts of our state, especially in the Panhandle", Scott said.
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"Because of the damage caused by Hurricane Florence, and the fact that there's still some standing water in places, we have to be that much more alert about the damage that Hurricane Matthew could do", Cooper said.
Mandatory evacuations are under way in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the Florida Panhandle as Hurricane Michael approaches.
The 11:30 a.m. advisory on what is forecast to be the largest hurricane on record to impact the panhandle and big bend area of Florida from the National Hurricane Center reports, Hurricane Michael has sustained winds of 150 miles per hour. They're also concerned about flooding rains.
Forecasters warned that Michael could ultimately dump a foot (30 centimeters) of rain in western Cuba, triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas.
North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper told residents: "I know people are worn out from Florence, but don't let this storm catch you with your guard down".
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Images posted on social media showed cars being swept along narrow streets by torrents of brown water. The flooding also affected phone communications and forced the closure of at least seven major roads.
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Michael was expected to be the strongest hurricane, based on wind speeds, to make landfall in the continental USA since Hurricane Charley hit Florida in 2004. It developed into a hurricane on Monday.
Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 35 counties along the Panhandle and Florida's Big Bend regions, mostly rural areas known for small tourist cities, beaches and wildlife reserves, and the state capital, Tallahassee. Florida Panhandle and Big Bend, southeast Alabama, and portions of southwest and central Georgia...4 to 8 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 12 inches.
About 3,500 Florida National Guard troops were deployed to assist with evacuations and storm recovery, along with more than 1,000 search-and-rescue personnel, Scott said.
More than 380,000 homes and businesses in Florida were without power at the height of the storm.
University of Georgia's Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called it a "life-altering event" on Facebook and said he watched the storm's growth on satellite images with a pit growing in his stomach.
Commissioner Bill Dozier also reminded anyone staying behind to stock up on supplies and "don't expect the government to help take care of you".
"There are so many downed power lines and trees that it's nearly impossible to get through the city", Apalachicola Mayor Van Johnson said. Many filled sandbags and boarded up homes and lined up to buy gas and groceries before leaving town.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Tuesday that an estimated 500,000 Florida residents had been ordered or urged to seek higher ground before the storm in 20 counties spanning a 200-mile (320-km) stretch of shoreline.
"There's nothing between us and this storm but warm water, and I think that's what terrifies us about the potential impacts", Gillum said.