Hurricane Michael nearing Category 4 strength

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An estimated 120,000 people along the Florida Panhandle were ordered to clear out on Tuesday as Hurricane Michael rapidly picked up steam in the Gulf of Mexico and closed in with winds of 110 miles per hour and a potential storm surge of 12 feet.

Entire blocks of homes near the beach were washed away, leaving nothing but concrete slabs in the sand.

Mandatory evacuation orders were issued for residents of barrier islands, mobile homes and low-lying coastal areas in Gulf, Wakulla and Bay counties.

Schools and state offices in the area are to remain shut this week.

That included Pensacola Beach but not in Pensacola itself, a city of about 54,000.

Florida officials said a man was killed when he was crushed by a tree in Gadsden County. It weakened steadily as it traveled inland over the Panhandle.

As it came ashore, Michael was just shy of a Category 5 - defined as a storm packing top sustained wind speeds of 157 miles per hour or above.

At a midterm election rally in Pennsylvania on Wednesday night, Trump offered his "thoughts and prayers" to those in the path of the storm and said he would be visiting Florida soon.

While Florence wrung itself out for days and brought ruinous rains, fast-moving Michael is likely to be more about wind and storm surge.

Jane Gendron of the American Red Cross says her volunteers just returned back to the north country after helping with Hurricane Florence relief in the Carolinas.

Long said several hospitals in the Panhandle were hit by the hurricane and patients had to be evacuated.

Major insurance companies fled Florida's homeowners market after 1992's Category 5 Hurricane Andrew hit south of Miami, destroying much of the city of Homestead and causing $45 billion in damages, adjusted for inflation. Roofs and awnings are peeled from buildings, pieces of homes are scattered amid snapped trees and downed power lines, chunks of beaches are washed away.

In the small Panhandle city of Apalachicola, Mayor Van Johnson Sr. said the 2,300 residents are frantically preparing for a major hurricane strike that could be unlike any seen there in decades.

"The wind that came through here was surreal".

-Strorm riders: Roughly 375,000 people in Florida warned to evacuate; many refused. Wind damage was also evident.

Hurricane warnings have been posted from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River, just northwest of Cedar Key on Florida's west coast.

Damage in Panama City was so extensive that broken and uprooted trees and downed power lines lay almost everywhere.

Search-and-rescue teams fanned out across the Florida Panhandle to reach trapped people in Michael's wake Thursday as daylight yielded scenes of rows upon rows of houses smashed to pieces by the third-most powerful hurricane on record to hit the continental U.S.

Florida has activated 3,500 National Guard troops.

Oil traders are advised to keep an eye on the storm updates as the undergoing the hurricane season and last year, with hurricane Harvey taking down most of the refining capacity in the Gulf of Mexico last year or one-fifth of national refining capacity, we have seen the impact on Gasoline price, which sharply shot up.

Even before landfall, the hurricane disrupted energy operations in the Gulf, cutting crude oil production by more than 40 percent and natural gas output by almost one-third as offshore platforms were evacuated before the storm hit.