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Hurricane Michael Now ‘Extremely Dangerous’ Category 4 Storm

Residents of vulnerable states need to take heed, as water 'could easily be over roofs of houses' — officials urge evacuations

Hurricane Michael has strengthened into a Category 4 storm as it moves toward the Florida Panhandle — where it could make landfall as the strongest storm to hit the U.S. this year.

As of 5 a.m. EST Wednesday, Michael was about 140 miles (290 kilometers) southwest of Panama City, Florida.

It had maximum sustained winds of 140 mph and was moving north at 13 mph — and it’s scheduled to blow into the coast Wednesday afternoon, as WDAF in Kansas City, Missouri, reported.

President Donald Trump has approved a pre-landfall emergency declaration to provide federal money for Florida, as Michael intensified from a Category 3 storm early Wednesday.

Highway tolls were being suspended in Florida’s northwest region to ease the evacuation process, as state officials issued either mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders in at least 22 counties on the Florida Gulf Coast.

Additionally, the Florida Highway Patrol is sending nearly 350 state troopers to the Panhandle and Big Bend areas, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said.

Life-threatening storm surges could potentially deliver 9- to 13-foot surges between Mexico Beach and Keaton Beach, reported WDAF.

“That means the water will come miles inshore and could easily be over the roofs of houses,” Scott warned, calling it a “monstrous storm” and urging evacuation.

If Hurricane Michael makes landfall as a Category 4 storm, it will be the strongest hurricane to hit the Florida Panhandle in recorded history, CNN meteorologist Michael Guy said.

Only three major hurricanes Category 3 or higher have struck the Panhandle since 1950: Eloise in 1975, Opal in 1995 and Dennis in 2005, noted WDAF.

About 3.7 million people in total are under hurricane warnings in the Panhandle and Big Bend regions — along with parts of southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia.

Tropical storm warnings also cover approximately 8.5 million people in several states.

Related: Hurricane Michael Is a ‘Monster Storm’ — ‘Do Not Ignore Warnings’

Damaging winds are also expected in Florida, southeastern Alabama and southern Georgia; tornadoes could appear in the Southeast Wednesday into Thursday, forecasters said.

A hurricane warning was in place from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River in Florida, said WDAF.

Meanwhile, tropical storm watches were in effect in some coastal areas of Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Storm surge warnings were also in place along the Florida and Alabama coasts.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared an emergency for 92 counties, and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency, saying on Twitter it was “in anticipation of widespread power outages, wind damage and debris produced by high winds & heavy rain associated with Hurricane Michael.”

See more about the storm and the situation in Florida in the video below.

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LifeZette senior editor Deirdre Reilly can be reached at [email protected].