ARLINGTON, Va. - Governors in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina have declared states of emergency prior to the landfall of Hurricane Michael, which hit Florida's Panhandle about 1:40 p.m. on Wednesday as a dangerous Category 4 storm, packing fierce winds of approximately 155 mph and triggering massive storm surges.
"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," Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted early Wednesday morning.
According to National Guard Bureau figures, Florida has about 1,150 Guard members on duty, with helicopters on standby. Florida's Army National Guard has about 670 high-water vehicles and 14 Zodiac rafts available, NGB tallies showed.
Scott has pulled no punches in warning state residents in the storm's path: "I can not emphasize enough - Hurricane Michael is forecast to be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida panhandle in decades," he said Tuesday. "It will be life-threatening and extremely dangerous. You cannot hide from this storm. You can rebuild your home; you cannot rebuild your life."
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey urged residents to prepare. "Please stay weather-aware today and tomorrow for any forecast changes," she said. "Most importantly, heed all warnings and instructions from local authorities."
"We have vehicles, equipment and manpower ready. If you need us, we are always there," the Alabama National Guard said on its Facebook page.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 92 counties Tuesday morning and urged residents to pay attention to forecasts and to authorities.
The Weather Channel noted that if the storm makes landfall as a Category 4 hurricane (winds from 130 to 156 mph), it will be the strongest hurricane to come ashore along the Florida Panhandle in records dating to 1851.
The North Carolina governor's office announced that 150 state National Guard members will be on duty later Wednesday.