Michael strengthens into a hurricane, tracking towards Florida

Thousands of Florida residents have been ordered to leave their homes as Hurricane Michael heads for the state's coast.

With maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour while moving north at 9 miles per hour, Michael is now "bringing hurricane-force winds and heavy rainfall to western Cuba" as storm surge and hurricane warnings have been issued for the northeastern area of the Gulf Coast.

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, Michael is centered about 220 miles south of Panama City, Florida, and moving north at 12 mph.

According to the NHC, Michael will likely make landfall early Wednesday morning, and is "forecast to be a risky major hurricane".

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday said it has alerted Filipinos in 5 southeastern U.S. states to prepare for Hurricane Michael, forecast to crash ashore midweek as a major Category 3 storm.

After hitting Florida, the storm is forecast to move northeast on Wednesday and Thursday along the Atlantic Coast and batter the Carolinas, which are still recovering from Hurricane Florence last month. Up to eight inches of storm surge is possible in Citrus County, and up to six inches in Pasco County.

Currently, the hurricane is a category one moving towards the north at 9 miles per hour.

A year ago millions of customers across Florida were without power after Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Keys and then again in Collier County before crawling up the spine of the state.

By declaring a State of Emergency, Governor Ivey is directing the activation of the Alabama Emergency Operations Plan. The worst conditions for central Georgia will be Wednesday night and Thursday morning. "Alabamians should always be prepared, but everyone needs to make final preparations now to be ready for Hurricane Michael", Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings said.

In a Facebook post Monday, the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office said no shelters would be open because Wakulla County shelters were rated safe only for hurricanes with top sustained winds below 111 miles per hour (178 kph).

Escambia through Franklin counties in Northwest Florida are included in the hurricane watch.

US Rep. Neal Dunn, whose district includes Panama City, urged people under evacuation orders to get out before tropical-storm-force winds arrived.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has also designated 40 law-enforcement officers for rapid deployment.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed an emergency declaration for her entire state, expecting widespread power outages and other problems from Michael.

The state's Big Bend area, where the storm is expected to make landfall on Wednesday, could see up to 12 feet of storm surge, according to forecasters.

Hurricane watches and storm surge watches have been issued along the Florida Panhandle.

A Storm Surge Warning is in effect for Okaloosa/Walton County Line Florida to Anclote River Florida A Storm Surge Watch is in effect for Anclote River Florida to Anna Maria Island Florida, including Tampa Bay, and Alabama/Florida border to Okaloosa/Walton County Line Florida A Hurricane Warning is in effect for Alabama/Florida border to Suwannee River Florida and the Cuban province of Pinar del Rio.

Vanessa Coleman