Videos from Hurricane Michael show its stunning strength

A map provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing the likely path of Tropical Storm Michael as

A map provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showing the likely path of Tropical Storm Michael as

The storm, which is expected to speed through the Panhandle before moving into the Atlanta area and the Carolinas, rapidly grew over the weekend, and Scott said many people made the decision not to evacuate early, when the forecast had the system reaching 100 miles per hour.

The brute storm that sprang from a weekend tropical depression gained in fury and size just hours ahead of Wednesday's projected midday landfall, packed 125 mph (200 kph) winds as a risky Category 3 storm.

"The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no category four hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle".

Kirsten Fiscus, a journalist, was less than 25 miles (40 kilometres) away in Panama City when Michael's eye made landfall.

Michael was forecast to have the power to uproot trees, block roads and knock out power for days when it hits Florida.

Around 30 million people across six states are under a hurricane watch and more than 375,000 people on the coast were told to evacuate, though many have ignored the emergency order.

Scott, who has activated 2,500 members of the National Guard, warned Michael could be the most destructive storm to hit the Florida Panhandle in decades. After ravaging the Keys, the storm moved north off the western coast of Florida before turning inland. It is expected to weaken as it moves up into the southeastern United States. Up to 12 inches of rain could fall in the area.

Earlier in the day the NHC said the storm had intensified to a category 2.

While Michael is expected to pack a severe rain-and-high-wind punch for those in its path, which will include portions of Georgia, the storm's rapid movement could lessen the overall severity of damage versus a slow-moving storm such as Hurricane Florence.

"We just need to be prepared", McMaster said.

The hurricane center has raised its estimates of the storm surge, saying ocean water could reach levels of 9 to 14 feet aboveground in a central area around Apalachicola.

Kossin said. "Now we can look at how warm the waters are and that certainly has contributed to how intense Michael is and its intensification".

President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, freeing up federal assistance to supplement state and local disaster responses. Tornadoes could spawn in the Southeast Wednesday into Thursday, forecasters said.

A hurricane warning was in place from the Okaloosa/Walton county line to the Suwannee River and a tropical storm warning was in effect for north of Fernandina Beach, Fla., to Duck, N.C., and Pamlico and Albemarle sounds. Eastern. Around midnight, the storm will have pulled out of Florida, heading through Georgia as a Category 1 and quickly losing steam.

A tweet by ABC News chief meteorologist Ginger Zee also showed a what appeared to be a structure that had been torn apart by the storm, its wooden remnants littered like toothpicks in the flood waters.

"If we don't, it's too late to go anywhere now", said resident Cyndie Kennedy. He focused on islands off the coast whose bridges may close as the storm approaches.

If Hurricane Florence was a slow-motion train wreck, Hurricane Michael is a 4-ton wrecking ball.