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Florida braces for sudden Category 4 storm

The Associated Press

A woman leads a sandbag assembly line at the Old Port Cove restaurant on Tuesday in Ozello, Fla.

The Associated Press TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Michael roared down on the Florida Panhandle, strengthening into a Category 4 hurricane early Wednesday before it was to crash against the region’s white-sand beaches, fishing villages and coastal communities later in the day.

The unexpected brute that quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression grew swiftly, rising in days to a catastrophic storm. Around midday it was expected to become one of the Panhandle’s worst hurricanes in memory, with heavy rainfall expected along the northeastern Gulf Coast and life-threatening storm surges of up to 4 meters.

Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida. But fears lingered that some failed to heed the calls to get out of Michael’s way as the hard-charging storm began speeding north over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Worried meteorologists said it had the potential of becoming one of the worst storms in the history of Florida’s Panhandle.

“I guess it’s the worst case scenario. I don’t think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle,” meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com told AP. “This is going to have structure-damaging winds along the coast and hurricane force winds inland.”

University of Georgia’s Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called it a “life-altering event” on Facebook and said he watched the storm’s growth on satellite images with a pit growing in his stomach.

Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith near the vulnerable coast said his deputies had gone door to door in some places urging people to evacuate. “We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out,” Smith said. “Hopefully more people will leave.”

On the exposed coast of Florida’s Big Bend, most of the waterfront homes in Keaton Beach stood vacant amid fears of a life-threatening storm surge in an area that hadn’t seen a potentially catastrophic major hurricane in decades. Even so, 77-year-old resident Robert Sadousky wasn’t quite ready to evacuate yet.

The retired mill worker has spent more than half his life on the coast and weathered his share of storms. He chose the spot where his house stands on tall stilts overlooking the Gulf waters in 1972 after it was the only lot left dry after a storm flooded the beach that year.Speech

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