With Hurricane Michael’s landfall on the Gulf Coast expected on Wednesday, officials in coastal counties were preparing to evacuate the coastline and prepare for inland flooding.
Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 35 Florida counties, with a hurricane watch in effect from the Alabama-Florida border to the Suwannee River. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the Alabama coast, as well.
Gulf County, Fla., officials issued a mandatory evacuation Monday for All of Cape San Blas, all of Indian Pass area, Simmons Bayou, Highland View, and Windmark. Evacuations were also ordered for the City of Port St. Joe, all areas from St. Joseph Bay to Long Avenue; St. Joe Beach and Beacon Hill — Waterside of Highway 98.
All of the affected areas were ordered to evacuate within 24 hours of the 10 a.m. Monday notice and critical businesses in the area were permitted to remain open until noon Tuesday.
A voluntary evacuation order was issued for Highway 98 Inland on St. Joe Beach and Beacon Hill.
Franklin County emergency officials issued a mandatory evacuation for all non-residents and Wakulla County emergency officials planned to follow suit for low-lying locations.
Both counties were offering sandbags to residents on Monday to protect property against flooding.
Pamela Brownell, Franklin County emergency management director, said officials are warning those living in recreational vehicles or mobile homes and those visiting state parks about the storm.
In Bay County, which includes Panama City, officials said bridge closings are likely. Visitors were encouraged to make plans to leave.
Campaigns on hold
Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum suspended his campaign for governor Monday, returning to the state capital, as he warned Michael will be a “life-threatening event.”
“We’ve got to ensure that folks are being smart in the aftermath of the storm, that they keep themselves and family members safe until after the first responders can get in and obviously the recovery process will start after that,” Gillum said.
His opponent, Republican Ron DeSantis, tweeted Sunday he would redirect his Panhandle campaign staff and volunteers to help prepare their communities ahead of the storm as he and his wife Casey DeSantis monitor the storm.
“We are watching the storm carefully, and Casey and I are keeping those in its path in our thoughts and prayers,” he wrote.
Scott, who is challenging Sen. Bill Nelson in the Nov. 6 election, also suspended campaigning, CNN reported. Nelson was meeting with emergency management officials in the Panhandle.
Florida State and Florida A&M universities in Tallahassee cancelled classes Tuesday-Friday. FSU serves about 32,000 students; FAMU has an enrollment of about 9,000.
Though the dormitories and dining halls would remain open at FSU, for students who could get home, they were taking the opportunity to visit family — and escape the risk of a prolonged power outage on campus.
“My family coerced me into coming back home. The power might go out up here and it’s too expensive to stock up on enough groceries for the entire week,” student Jasmine Jacobs said.
Out-of-state and international students, and others who just couldn’t get transportation out of Tallahassee, were staying put, hitting the stores in search of flashlights, batteries — and board games.
“I do feel safe staying on campus, but I wish I could go home,” said freshman Payton Liberto. “All of the RedCoach buses were sold out and booked up. All the flights were way too expensive and wouldn’t leave early enough.”
Gas was starting to run low at service stations around Tallahassee on Monday evening.
Emily Pacenti contributed to this report.