Hurricane Michael intensifies as it nears northwest Florida coast

Hurricane Michael intensifies as it nears northwest Florida coast 

Capt. Duane Petit checks on his boat at a marina on the Gulf of Mexico on Oct. 10, 2018, ahead of the arrival of Hurricane Michael, a powerful Category 4 storm, in Panama City, Florida. EPA-EFE/Dan Anderson

Miami, Oct 10 (efe-epa).- Hurricane Michael intensified early Wednesday as it continued moving toward the coast of northwest Florida, where the powerful storm is forecast to make landfall later in the day, the National Hurricane Center said.

Michael, a Category 4 hurricane packing winds of 230 kph (145 mph), is moving north at 20 kph (13 mph) toward the Florida Panhandle, the NHC said in its latest public advisory.

The hurricane is about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Panama City, Florida.

Michael, which started intensifying rapidly once it entered the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, will be the most powerful hurricane to hit the Panhandle since 2005.

The Miami-based NHC said Michael is expected to make landfall in the early afternoon, causing “potentially catastrophic” damage to the region.

Officials have ordered some 375,000 people living near the coast to evacuate.

Forecasters expect the storm’s torrential rains to cause widespread flooding, cutting off low-lying areas on the coast.

Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 35 of Florida’s 67 counties ahead of the storm’s arrival, and officials in neighboring Alabama and Georgia, as well as in South Carolina, have also declared a state of emergency.

The NHC has issued hurricane watches and warnings covering an area stretching from the Carolinas to Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.