Photos sent to the Tallahassee Democrat show flooded streets and falling tree branches in Apalachicola, Florida.
Hurricane Michael’s first strong band is now rolling through Tallahassee and the surrounding areas, according to the National Weather Service, with gusts of wind at 60mph.
Hathaway Bridge, the main bridge connecting Panama City to neighboring Panama City Beach, has been closed due to winds over 50mph.
Here’s an image of rising waters in the area of the bridge.
The Bay county sheriff says the bridge is too dangerous to cross.
Tropical storm conditions are now spreading across the Florida Panhandle as Michael approaches, the National Hurricane Center says in its latest update issued at 10am eastern time.
Water levels are rising quickly along the coast of the panhandle. A National Ocean Service water level station at Apalachicola recently reported over 4ft of inundation above ground level.
The storm is now located about 65 miles south-west of Panama City, with sustained winds of 145mph.
A private weather station in Bald Point, Florida, has already reported a sustained wind of 48mph and wind gust of 59mph, and the Apalachicola airport also reported a wind gust of 58mph.
The storm has forced air traffic to re-route around the Gulf of Mexico.
Water has begun to swamp some highways in Florida. The Florida department of transportation posted a video of storm surge topping a sea wall and flowing onto US 98 in Gulf county.
Another photo shows flood waters encroaching on US 98 in Franklin county.
Georgia is also expected to absorb a blow from Hurricane Michael, Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) administrator Brock Long warned at a press conference Wednesday morning.
He said the storm will be one of the worst that southern Georgia has seen in decades, and people there should “wake up and pay attention”.
In parts of Georgia, as in Florida, it’s likely power will be out for several weeks, he said.
North and South Carolina are also expected to see rainfall from the storm, which is a concern because rivers there have not yet receded to their normal levels after flooding from Hurricane Florence. “Unfortunately it’s going to be a reality and it’s going to cause problems,” Long said.
With rain already drenching the area from the fast-moving storm, officials are warning residents Wednesday morning not to try to move if they haven’t already evacuated.
“What we’re trying to communicate to our folks is: You’ve made your decision. It’s time to hunker down and ride out this storm,” Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum told CNN.
Panama City Beach city manager Mario Gisbert said residents should take shelter in the least exposed room in their homes.
“Find a good, safe room within the house – typically it’s a closet, it’s a bathroom, it’s a hallway. If you’ve got an area where you’ve got water rising, just play it safe – try not to travel in that water,” he told CNN. “Stay at home. Stay in a dry spot and just weather it out right now. It’s not the time to move.”
Some reports suggested that many of those encouraged to evacuate had ignored the warnings and chosen to stay put. There were mandatory evacuation orders in place for Panama City Beach and Pensacola Beach, but not the city of Pensacola itself.
“I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we’ve called for the evacuation of 75% of this county,” Bay county sheriff Tommy Ford told the Associated Press
“Communities are going to see unimaginable devastation,” Florida governor Rick Scott said at a storm press conference Wednesday morning.
Medical teams are standing by, with 90 ambulances at the ready, Scott said. There are 19,000 workers stage to help restore power after the storm.
There are not yet any major power outages or fuel shortages.
“Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the panhandle in a century,” Scott said. Twelve inches of rain could fall in parts of the panhandle. “Flooding will be a major issue,” he said.
The storm came on fast, unlike Hurricane Florence which lingered off the east coast for days, leaving less time for officials to prepare.
Scott said he had visited Franklin county, where 50 people had decided to stay put on an island off the coast despite visits from law enforcement to encourage them to evacuate. “I’m scared to death for them,” Scott said.
Florida governor Rick Scott says he has just spoken with Donald Trump, who offered federal aid to deal with the massive storm.
Florida governor: ‘This storm can kill you’
Hurricane Michael strengthened overnight into a dangerous category 4 hurricane, and is headed for Florida – the strongest storm to ever hit the Florida Panhandle.
“This storm can kill you,” Governor Rick Scott has warned.
The hurricane is expected to make landfall Wednesday, with population centers like Panama City and Tallahassee sitting in its path.
The “potentially catastrophic” storm has sustained winds of 145mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.
Storm surge could reach up to 14ft in parts of the hurricane zone.
The hurricane is 90 miles south-west of Panama City as of 8am eastern time.
Half a million people were advised to evacuate, but officials said Wednesday morning that it was too late to flee and residents who haven’t already left should hunker down.
“The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone. First responders will not be able to come out in the middle of the storm. If you chose to stay in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY,” Scott tweeted.
We will have live updates here throughout the day.