RALEIGH — Gov. Roy Cooper declared a state of emergency at 10:50 a.m. Wednesday ahead of Hurricane Michael, a Category 4 storm that made landfall in the Florida Panhandle.
The storm’s path is forecast to run through the state, where many in the region are still reeling after last month’s Hurricane Florence.
Cooper says he’s called up 150 National Guard troops and lifted restrictions on trucks that could deliver supplies to the state.
Officials have said that Michael isn’t expected to cause the same kind of river flooding as Florence, but Cooper said that Michael could bring up to 7 inches of rain to parts of the state, which could cause flash-flooding. He urged people in flood-prone areas to watch forecasts and heed any evacuation orders.
Cooper said tropical storm-force winds will likely from late Wednesday into Thursday, and that the wind and rain could further damage tarped houses where people are working to rebuild.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the storm surge from Hurricane Michael has come ashore and is growing deeper.
According to a National Hurricane Center update, a National Ocean Service water level station at Apalachicola reported over 4 feet of inundation above ground level by mid-morning Wednesday. Forecasters have said the hurricane could push up to 14 feet of ocean water ashore in Apalachicola, surging over normal tides.
Waves have been gnawing away at the base of sand dunes at Panama City Beach.
About 50 people resisted evacuating from St. George Island, and two people on Dog Island, which is only accessible by boat, also ignored evacuation orders. Franklin County emergency management coordinator Tress Dameron told The News Herald in Panama City that people who stayed better be wearing their life jackets.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered 1,500 National Guard troops on standby, ready for deployment as needed as Hurricane Michael blows in. Hurricanes weaken after landfall, but Michael is a catastrophic Category 4 storm and is expected to remain a hurricane as it ploughs over Georgia.
Transportation officials are already anticipating gale-force winds by closing the main bridge over the Savannah River between Savannah and South Carolina. The Georgia Department of Transportation said the Talmadge Memorial Bridge on U.S. 17 closed at 9 p.m. Wednesday, because it was too difficult for motorists to control their vehicles in such conditions.
South Alabama is another inland area that won’t be spared. Alabama’s Geneva County has announced a curfew beginning at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and the local emergency management agency has urged people to voluntarily evacuate from mobile homes and other places that could be unstable in the storm’s high winds.
FEMA Director Brock Long says his agency has nearly 3,000 people in the field ready to assist with Hurricane Michael.
He says teams and aircraft are ready to support any search and rescue missions in Florida or elsewhere, and that staging areas with commodities needed after storms have been set up in Atlanta and at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.
He also says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working “hand-in-hand” with Florida Gov. Rick Scott. He praised Florida’s use on Tuesday evening of the wireless emergency alert system to let residents know that the storm was getting stronger.
As for the many people who ignored orders to evacuate, Long said Wednesday that people “who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don’t usually live to tell about it.”
National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham says Michael’s top winds of 145 mph are powerful enough to peel off roofs and cause the “complete destruction of houses.”
Stretches of the coast could see storm surge of at least 6 feet, with waters rising in some places up to 14 feet above the ground. Graham wants people to think about how tall they are, and just how high that water can be.
Michael is powerful enough to remain a hurricane well inland as it travels over Georgia on Thursday. Graham says falling trees will pull down utility lines, leaving some areas without power for weeks, and hazardous conditions will persist long after the storm blows through.
He also emphasized the aftermath of a hurricane is “not the time to start learning to use that chain saw.”