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Hurricane Michael: ‘Too late to flee’ storm set to hit Florida

Media captionDarren Bett has an update on Hurricane Michael

US officials say it is too late to flee from the path of Hurricane Michael – a category four storm – hours before it is due to hit the US mainland.

The storm is forecast to make landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and is expected to be the largest storm to hit the region in 100 years.

Florida Governor Rick Scott warned citizens of “unimaginable devastation”.

At least 13 people reportedly died in Central America over the weekend as a result of storm rains and floods.

The storm has sustained winds of 145mph (230km/h) and is due to make landfall at about midday (16:00 GMT).

Officials warn it is now too late for coastal residents to flee, and that those who remain should seek shelter.

More than 370,000 people in Florida have been ordered to evacuate and move to higher ground, but officials estimate that far fewer have actually left.

“Do not leave your house,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said on Wednesday.

“The worst thing you can do now is leave,” he said, adding that those who do “put yourself and your family in danger”.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Brock Long was even more stark in his warning.

Those people “who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don’t usually live to tell about it,” he said, adding that they put first responders at risk as well.

  • How to survive a monster storm
  • Are hurricanes getting worse?

Florida has declared a state of emergency, as have Alabama and Georgia.

What are the latest developments?

In a 10:00 (14:00 GMT) bulletin, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Michael remained “an extremely dangerous” hurricane.

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It warned of a life-threatening storm surge, hurricane force winds and heavy rainfall along the north-eastern Gulf coast.

Michael, it added, could see some additional strengthening before it made landfall in the Florida Panhandle – a strip of land bordering the Gulf of Mexico – or the Big Bend area to its east.

The NHC warns that some regions of Florida may experience storm surges of up to 14ft (4m).

And “life-threatening” flash floods may occur as a result of up to 12in (30cm) of rain.

  • A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

On the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, category four includes winds of up to 156mph with possible severe damage to even well-built homes and trees being felled.

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Image caption

Residents put plywood up in Port St Joe, Florida

Hurricanes

A guide to the world’s deadliest storms

Hurricanes are violent storms that can bring devastation to coastal areas, threatening lives, homes and businesses.

Hurricanes develop from thunderstorms, fuelled by warm, moist air as they cross sub-tropical waters.
Warm air rises into the storm.

Air swirls in to fill the low pressure in the storm, sucking air in and upwards, reinforcing the low pressure.

The storm rotates due to the spin of the earth and energy from the warm ocean increases wind speeds as it builds.

When winds reach 119km/h (74mph), it is known as a hurricane – in the Atlantic and Eastern Pacific – or a typhoon in the Western Pacific.

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face. Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”
Florida Mayor Bob Buckhorn, ahead of Hurricane Irma (2017)

The central eye of calmer weather is surrounded by a wall of rainstorms.
This eyewall has the fastest winds below it and violent currents of air rising through it.

A mound of water piles up below the eye which is unleashed as the storm reaches land.
These storm surges can cause more damage from flooding than the winds.

“Urgent warning about the rapid rise of water on the SW FL coast with the passage of #Irma’s eye. MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!”
Tweet from the National Hurricane Center

The size of hurricanes is mainly measured by the Saffir-Simpson scale – other scales are used in Asia Pacific and Australia.

Winds 119-153km/h
Some minor flooding, little structural damage.
Storm surge +1.2m-1.5m

Winds 154-177km/h
Roofs and trees could be damaged.
Storm surge +1.8m-2.4m

Winds 178-208km/h
Houses suffer damage, severe flooding
Storm surge +2.7m-3.7m

Hurricane Sandy (2012) caused $71bn damage in the Caribbean and New York

Winds 209-251km/h
Some roofs destroyed and major structural damage to houses.
Storm surge +4m-5.5m

Hurricane Ike (2008) hit Caribbean islands and Louisiana and was blamed for at least 195 deaths

Winds 252km/h+
Serious damage to buildings, severe flooding further inland.
Storm surge +5.5m

Hurricane Irma (2017) caused devastation in Caribbean islands, leaving thousands homeless

“For everyone thinking they can ride this storm out, I have news for you: that will be one of the biggest mistakes you can make in your life.”
Mayor of New Orleans Ray Nagin ahead of Hurricane Gustav, 2008

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