According to Weather Underground, if Michael makes landfall with winds of at least 130 miles per hour, which is minimal Category 4 strength, it would be the strongest hurricane ever in the Florida Panhandle in records going back to 1851. It was expected to blow ashore around midday Wednesday near Panama City Beach, along a lightly populated stretch of fishing villages and white-sand spring-break beaches.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal on Tuesday issued a state of emergency declaration for 92 counties in the state.
At least 13 people have reportedly died in Central America due to the storm.
"If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you're now calling for help, there's no one that can respond to help you", Escambia county sheriff David Morgan said in a statement.
Forecasters expect Hurricane Michael to grow stronger still as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico on its way to Florida's Panhandle. "I don't think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle", meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com told The Associated Press.
More than 300 miles of coastline are now under threat, the National Weather Service has said. Manatee County is now under storm surge and tropical storm watches. "We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out", Smith said.
In the storm-weary Carolinas, Hurricane Michael's approach is stoking fresh fears among homeowners who still have tarps on their roofs or industrial dehumidifiers drying their floors from destruction left by Hurricane Florence.
He added that it is predicted to be "the most destructive storm to hit the Florida panhandle in decades".
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State officials estimate about 375,000 Floridians are under either mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders. "Storm surge can occur before, during, or after the center of a storm passes through an area".
The neighbouring states of Alabama and Georgia have also declared a state of emergency.
TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 08: Drivers line up for gasoline as Hurricane Michael bears down on the northern Gulf coast of Florida on October 8, 2018 in Tallahassee, Florida.
Images on social media showed evacuating families wading through water to get to safety.
The Miami-based centre forecast as much as 1 foot of rain in parts of Florida, Georgia and SC.
Offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have evacuated workers, halting almost a fifth of daily production.
Heavy rainfall was projected for areas in the storm's path.