Hurricane Michael has gained new strength over warm tropical waters amid fears it will intensify before striking Florida’s north-east Gulf Coast.
Coastal dwellers are boarding up homes and seeking evacuation routes away from the dangerous storm heading their way.
Anticipated landfall is expected on Wednesday on the north-east Gulf Coast, where authorities warned of a potentially devastating strike.
By Monday night, Michael’s top sustained winds had risen some to 90mph as it headed north at 12mph.
Forecasters warned Michael could dump up to a foot of rain in western Cuba, potentially triggering flash floods and mudslides in mountain areas.
On the Florida Panhandle, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan bluntly advised residents who choose to ride out the storm that first responders will not be able to reach them during or immediately after Michael smashes into the coast.
He said at a news conference: “If you decide to stay in your home and a tree falls on your house or the storm surge catches you and you’re now calling for help, there’s no-one that can respond to help you.”
Florida governor Rick Scott called Michael a “monstrous hurricane” with a devastating potential from high winds, storm surge and heavy rains.
Mr Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 Florida counties from the Panhandle to Tampa Bay, activated hundreds of Florida National Guard members and waived tolls to encourage those near the coast to evacuate inland.
He also warned caregivers at north Florida hospitals and nursing homes to do all possible to assure the safety of the elderly and infirm. Following Hurricane Irma last year, 14 people died when a South Florida nursing home lost power and air conditioning.
“If you’re responsible for a patient, you’re responsible for the patient. Take care of them,” he said.