Hurricane Michael gains strength, takes aim at north Florida

Hurricane Michael swiftly intensified into a Category 2 over warm Gulf of Mexico waters Tuesday amid fears it would strike Florida on Wednesday as a major hurricane. Mandatory evacuations were issued as beach dwellers rushed to board up homes just ahead of what could be a devastating hit.

A hurricane hunter plane that bounced into the swirling eye off the western tip of Cuba found wind speeds rising. By 8 a.m. Tuesday, top winds had reached 100 mph (155 kph), and it was forecast to strengthen more, with winds topping 111 mph (179 kph), capable of causing devastating damage.

Gov. Rick Scott warned people across northwest Florida at a news conference Tuesday morning that the “monstrous hurricane” was just hours away, bringing deadly risks from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains.

His opponent in Florida’s Senate race, Sen. Bill Nelson, said a “wall of water” could cause major destruction along the Panhandle. “Don’t think that you can ride this out if you’re in a low-lying area,” Nelson said on CNN.

Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect Tuesday morning for some 120,000 people in Panama City Beach and across other low-lying parts of the coast as Hurricane Michael approaches.