Hurricane Michael Florida coast
Florida residents are scrambling to flee their homes as Hurricane Michael bears down on the state. If it doesn't weaken before making landfall, Michael will be the strongest hurricane to batter Florida since 1851.

"No long-time residents of this area will have seen a hurricane this strong before," said the Weather Channel. No category-4 hurricane has ever made landfall along Florida's panhandle, and Michael is set to bring winds of up to 145mph and waves of up to 13 feet, enough to rip roofs off houses, and bury them beneath the storm surge.

As well as being the strongest storm to hit Florida in over a century, Michael is poised to be the strongest to hit the US mainland since the extremely active hurricane season of 2004.

"It's a triple threat - it's got high surge, it's got heavy winds or strong winds and heavy rain and a wide area," FEMA administrator Jeff Byard told Fox News.

"A storm like this could be a once-in-a-lifetime event," Meteorologist Brett Rayburn told Bloomberg. "Winds of this intensity can really knock down any tree or structure in its path.

President Trump has declared a state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, and Governor Rick Scott pleaded on Wednesday with anyone in an evacuation zone - around 500,000 people - to "leave RIGHT NOW," or risk their lives.

After ripping through Florida, FEMA warned that Hurricane Michael could cause flash flooding throughout Alabama, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. The Carolinas are still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Florence six weeks ago, and Michael is expected to be orders of magnitude stronger than Florence.

Evacuees have already begun to settle into school and government buildings, hastily repurposed as shelters by the Red Cross. 75-year-old retiree Betty Early told Reuters that she was just "blessed to have a place to come," as she huddled on a makeshift bedroll in an elementary school building in Panama City, near the storm's expected landfall.

With the storm approaching ever closer, Gov. Scott warned that first responders will no longer be able to make it to evacuation zones. "The time for evacuating along the coast has come and gone," he warned later on Wednesday morning. "If you chose to stay in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY."

In addition to the imminent threat to human life, authorities are predicting sustained power outages, and "major infrastructure damage," according to Byard. Wastewater treatment systems, as well as transportation and communication networks, are expected to be devastated by the storm, which could cause up to $16 billion in damage.