Jacob Ogles, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 22

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.
David Holden

David Holden talks gun control after Fort Myers shootings

Democratic congressional candidate David Holden this week called for federal gun legislation after a deadly shooting at a Fort Myers mall.

“Our prayers are with you, the two survivors in the hospital and the heroic Marine who came to their aid,” Holden said Wednesday on social media. “This is yet another reason we must end gun violence.”

Holden, who is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Frances Rooney in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. The Naples Democrat said he’s no stranger to the issue. “I’ve been working with Moms Demand Action for about two years now,” he said. “But this is an important issue, and I think it’s important to a lot of people in Southwest Florida.”

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office said two people were shot and killed at Bell Tower Shops early Wednesday morning, and two more were injured, one in critical condition, as reported by The News-Press. Those killed were 56-year-old Kevin Robinson and 22-year-old Javarcia Riggins. No arrest has been made, but deputies believe it was a “targeted” attack.

The same night, two more people, 41-year-old Torre Deontray Fuller and 43-year-old William Allen Merrill III, were killed in a similar shooting at Sungold Plaza in Fort Myers, according to NBC-2 WBBH.

The shootings took place the same day Hurricane Michael struck the Panhandle, drawing the bulk of statewide media attention.

Holden’s campaign noted the violence and pointed to the Democrat’s platform on gun violence. He supports the 10-point March For Our Lives plan promoted by students in the wake of the high-profile February school shooting in Parkland.

Additionally, Holden wants to reinstitute the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, reverse the Dickey Amendment prevent public health research on gun violence, and to repeal the shield law protecting gun manufacturers from liability.

The district where Holden is running is an area where the Second Amendment means business but where debate has grown more vocal.

When Rooney held a town hall a week after the Parkland shootings in February, a half dozen Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School alumni attended, as reported by The News-Press. When Rooney said he did not support an assault weapons ban, some in the crowd booed.

Shortly afterword, Rooney announced a proposal to cut down on mass shootings that included expanding background checks to all gun sales without exception, as reported by Sunshine State News.

Rooney also supported a ban on bump stocks and an increase in the legal age for purchasing a firearm, measures that became state law after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act passed but which have not gone anywhere yet at the federal level.

Holden said he remains a supporter of the Second Amendment and grew up learning gun safety from National Rifle Association instructors, but now sees the NRA as a front for extremist policy and one that effectively enforces a far-right agenda on guns.

“How many dead children to we have to see before we act?” Holden said.

The 19th district historically votes conservative. Rooney took 66 percent of the vote in 2016 over Democrat Robert Neeld’s 34 percent when he first won election to the U.S. House.

But Holden said the weakness of Democrats in the region historically has been because the party won’t support candidates here. He believes many moderate Republicans end up registering with the GOP just to have a voice on local matters. But he hopes to show this year a Democratic message can resonate in Southwest Florida.

The most recent Federal Election Commission findings show Rooney through Aug. 8 raised almost $389,000 to Holden’s $248,000.

Michael mangles campaign schedules

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew’s tremendous destruction, this no longer looks like a typical campaign weekend, as many of the candidates for office instead devote 100 percent of their time to storm-struck areas.

Gov. Rick Scott, Republican U.S. Senate candidate, called for a delay in a Tuesday debate with incumbent Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Instead, he says he will focus exclusively on recovery efforts. The governor plans to tour every county affected by the storm, he told MyPanhandle.com.

Nelson, meanwhile, has also been touring the Panhandle and continues to do so, while also working with Republican Sen. Marco Rubio to align federal resources for storm recovery.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, the Democratic gubernatorial nominee, also has job duties keeping him off the campaign trail. He will remain in Tallahassee helping with disaster response. But New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio will campaign on his behalf in West Palm Beach and Delray Beach today, according to the Palm Beach Post. Surrogates will be filling in through the day regarding pre-planned events in South Florida today. Gillum’s wife R. Jai Gillum, along with running mate Chris King‘s wife Kristen, will participate in the Miami Susan G. Komen Pink Walk and hold a talk on Gillum’s health care platform.

In the morning, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis , Republican Attorney General candidate Ashley Moody and Republican Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell will join forces to delivery supplies to storm-ravaged areas. The candidates will connect at the Busy Bee Truck Stop in Live Oak at 10 a.m.. Then the “Working for Florida” caravan rides with Bikers for Trump to Rutherford High School in Panama City, where they expect to arrive around 1:30 p.m. The Republican Party of Florida also organized a relief supply shipment that will arrive at Grayton Beer Company in Santa Rosa Beach sometime between 10:30 a.m. and noon, and encouraged volunteers that can get to the location to assist.

DeSantis later today plans to attend an event at the Temple Kol Ami Emanuel in Plantation at 4 p.m. He plans to discuss Israel policy and the BDS Movement. Yesterday, he swung through South Florida yesterday to pick up a police union endorsement. His running mate, Jeanette Nunez, meanwhile, visited the Bay County EOC of Friday.

Sandy Hook father Lenny Pozner sues Delray Beach

A father of a child killed at Sandy Hook just sued the city of Delray Beach, accusing an employee of illegally accessing his driver’s license records.

Lenny Pozner, whose son Noah was among 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the city and employee Rhea-Lyn Gerstenkorn.

The complaint says Gerstenkorn on at least three occasions illegally accessed Pozner’s personal information through Florida’s Driver and Information Database through her position at the police department.

Considering Pozner for years battled conspiracy theorists intent on proving his son never existed, he labeled such searches “unwelcome.”

“Mr. Pozner has been a target by Alex Jones and Jones’ extreme right-wing conspiracy co-theorists regarding the Sandy Hook shooting being a government plot that was staged to provide an excuse to confiscate assault rifles,” wrote Mark Tietig, Pozner’s attorney, in the complaint.

Pozner previously sued Jones, the founder of InfoWars. Jones eventually backtracked on Sandy Hook theories.

On Gerstenkorn’s LinkedIn page, she says she has worked as an analyst at the Delray Beach Police Department for more than eight years.

She’s also vice president of membership for the Florida Crime and Intelligence Analyst Association.

Pozner’s lawsuit demands $95,000 in damages from Gerstenkorn specifically and an unspecified amount in damages from the city.

“As a direct and proximate result of the City’s violation of Mr. Pozner’s rights as described in this Count, he has been injured and has suffered damages, including pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress, economic damages, and loss of capacity to enjoy life,” Tietig wrote.

Pozner now lives in Florida, and has taken a lead role among Sandy Hook parents pushing back at conspiracies and so-called “Sandy Hook truthers.”

Many of those theories also have their roots in Florida somehow. Florida Atlantic University professor James Tracy promulgated the theory on his blog that the Sandy Hook attacks and several others never took place and had been staged by the government as an excuse to promote gun control legislation.

Tracy eventually got fired, though FAU said that had nothing to do with his theories or Pozner’s campaign to have him fired.

Tom Wright named as replacement nominee for Dorothy Hukill

Republican leaders named New Smyrna Beach businessman Tom Wright as the replacement nominee in state Senate District 14, replacing the late state Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

“I believe I have the skills, life experience, and record of success to strongly support our community as the Republican nominee for Florida Senate,” Wright wrote in a letter to party leaders.

District 14 political leaders say they have confidence in Wright as a candidate.

“We were pleased that the Brevard County Chairman and State Committeeman both gave Tom Wright their vote, giving Tom an 84 percent win for the nomination,” said Tony Ledbetter, Volusia County Republican Executive Committee chairman.

“We had many good candidates come forward for the position from both counties, however, Tom Wright was seen by us as the one most capable of immediately launching a winnable campaign with just 28 days to go until the election on Nov. 6.”

Brevard leaders showed equal enthusiasm.

“We’re very excited to rally behind Tom,” said Rick Lacey, chairman of the Brevard County Republican Executive Committee. “We feel he’ll be an excellent senator, and he’ll make us proud to be Republicans.”

Party leaders underwent the replacement process following Hukill’s departure. Hukill had previously been treated for cancer in 2016, then in September announced cancer had returned and she would enter hospice care. She died less than a week later.

State law allows party leaders to name a replacement nominee. Ballots have already been printed and Hukill’s name will appear on ballots. Elections officials will provide a letter with vote-by-mail ballots and through noticed posted at polling locations notifying voters in District 14 that votes cast for Hukill will now count for Wright.

According to Lacey, Wright has long supported Volusia County Republicans. Volusia makes up a majority of the Senate district.

Ledbetter said Wright serves on the Board of Halifax Urban Ministries and Chase Academy for Autistic Children and supports many projects for veterans.

“Tom has supported and advised Republican candidates and will serve with the same conservative voice Senator Hukill has promoted during her years in public service.,” Ledbetter said. “He has the experience and skills necessary to serve the citizens of Volusia and Brevard counties well in the Florida Senate.”

Florida Today reports Wright promised to “do you a good job and stay the course.” He will pay a candidate qualification fee to the Division of Elections out of pocket and promised he could largely self-finance the campaign, something that could be necessary with the short period between now and the Nov. 6 general election.

“I am a self-made businessman, I have no one that I owe or am beholden to,” Wright wrote to leaders. “Through hard work, I have been blessed with business success, and I know firsthand what it takes to run a business, make payroll, live within a budget and make the tough decisions that come with running a business.

“As a lifelong Republican business person, I have employed hundreds of people over the years, and know firsthand what is required of a small business to remain compliant and within the countless regulations and rules placed on them from a local level all the way up to the national level.”

Martin to date has raised $41,850 and chipped in a $2,000 loan.

The selection process was similar to the recent replacement nominee process Democrats held to replace deceased Congressional candidate April Freeman in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, though in many way the stakes could be higher in the Senate contest.

Hukill, of course, was the incumbent, one who won this district with more than 68 percent of the vote two years ago over Democrat Richard Paul Dembinsky.

Republican President Donald Trump won the district as well but by a smaller margin, with 56 percent of the vote over Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 39 percent.

Florida Today reports that Republicans make up about 39 percent of registered voters while Democrats make up 33 percent.

Wright will run against Brevard County Democrat Melissa “Mel” Martin in the November election. Martin, a former judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps, had raised $41,850 for the race as of last Friday and had about $27,000 in cash on hand, a finance report shows.

District 14 has not been one of a handful of high-profile Senate races that the state Republican and Democratic parties targeted this year. As of last week, for example, state Democratic leaders had provided little in-kind assistance to Martin — one indicator of attention from state parties and leaders, according to Martin’s finance report.

Hukill had raised $249,221 for her re-election bid, though she had not raised any money since mid-September, reports show.

Some high-profile names were floated as possible replacement candidates for Hukill, including former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and state Rep. Tom Goodson — all Brevard County residents.

But Wright and three other finalists considered Thursday night did not have legislative experience.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Trulieve to open 20th marijuana dispensary on Friday

Trulieve, the leading medical marijuana company in Florida, will open its 20th location on Friday.

“With twenty locations statewide, and more on track to open in the coming months, we will be able to bring safe and effective care to the patients who need it most,” said Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, “including those who may have been unable to make it to a physical location before.”

Rivers will attend the opening of the Sarasota dispensary on North Beneva Road.

Any company licensed to sell medical cannabis in the state may have up to 30 dispensaries, so this puts Trulieve two-thirds of the way toward its total allowed number.

It also means Trulieve runs about a third of all dispensaries now doing business in Florida. The company figures, based on Department of Health information, it is sitting on about 68 percent of the market share in the state.

The location in Sarasota will be the first dispensary within city limits, even though competitor AltMed has its national headquarters in the city. That company ultimately opened its first Sarasota location outside of town in August while Sarasota officials wrestled with its regulations before approving the first dispensary in town.

Trulieve plans to open its 30th dispensary by the end of January. On Tuesday, the company opened its first Broward County location in Dania Beach. It now has shops from Pensacola to Miami.

Of course, the company also delivers its product statewide.

Florida law requires companies that run dispensaries to sell product cultivated by the same company. As a “seed to sale” business, Trulieve was able to quickly become the first and largest medical marijuana company operating in Florida.

And demand grows as well. The state Office of Medical Marijuana Use official patient registry now includes more than 172,000 users.

Jimmy Patronis reports major Verizon outages in Bay County, Panhandle

Verizon Wireless customers remain largely without service in Bay County and the Panhandle, according to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

“Citizens with family and friends in the Bay County and other areas severely impacted by the storm should not panic if they can’t reach their loved ones,” Patronis said.

“Verizon Wireless has massive outages. People in the area must stay off the roads and wait to hear from loved ones. Listen to local emergency officials and obey all curfew orders. Do not risk your life.”

Verizon issued its own update saying the company has staffed command centers, and that officials will assess which areas have been hardest hit by the storm.

“In the hardest hit areas where we are experiencing service interruptions, we are assessing damage and mobilizing pre-staged equipment and people needed for repairs,” reads the Verizon post. “Backup generators are running where needed and we are on standby to refuel generators to ensure our network facilities continue operating for our customers.”

The company is providing free calls, texts and data to all customers in areas affected by the storm once they get service.

The company has stressed it continues to monitor the storm as it tears through states besides Florida. The storm continues to prompt flash flood warnings in North Carolina and south-central Virginia according to the National Hurricane Center, and while it’s now dropped to Tropical Storm level (after the eye has passed through four states), it now threatens a region of the country still recovering from Hurricane Florence.

Patronis also Florida’s Fire Marshall, said the top priority for state officials in the wake of Hurricane Michael remains of public safety.

“My main focus is saving lives and the safety of those recovering and responding in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.”

The storm knocked out power for 359,000 in Florida’s Panhandle as of this morning.

Meteorologists now report Hurricane Michael was stronger than Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Andrew when it made landfall yesterday, according to USA Today.

Jennifer Zimmerman questions Matt Gaetz whereabouts during Michael

Democratic congressional challenger Jennifer Zimmerman took a swipe at Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz for heading to Washington, D.C. as his district faced a storm.

But officials with Gaetz’s office say he likely better serves constituents from the capitol — he meets with the FEMA director on storm response today — and the congressman has suggested that the best place for a congressman in a storm may be in the District of Columbia coordinating the response effort.

Zimmerman, who seeks to unseat Gaetz as representative for Florida’s 1st Congressional District this November, tweeted last night it was “not in her nature” to leave the district as Hurricane Michael threatened the region because she felt a personal responsibility to the people of Northwest Florida.

She clarified to Florida Politics that yes, she did intend to contrast that to Gaetz,

“He flew to Washington right before the storm and bragged about flying coach,” she said. “In the meantime, not only did I stay, I reached out to District 2.”

Gaetz flew from Orlando to Washington, D.C., as noted by Politico’s Jake Sherman.

When Sherman noted that on Twitter, Gaetz responded that he flew “in coach.”

Before that, Gaetz had been on the campaign trail with Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis, and he’d flown to Washington principally to hear testimony from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. That meeting ultimately never took place.

But, staffers said, the congressman’s Washington office quickly became the “war room” for Hurricane Michael.

With the district offices in Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach closed down, all calls from constituents forwarded to the Cannon House Office Building.

Zimmerman said voters should contrast how she handled the storm. A pediatrician by trade, she held donation drives at her former Kidscare Pediatrics office in Pace to help storm survivors while Gaetz headed to Washington for an interview many dismiss as politically motivated.

But Gaetz will be meeting the director of FEMA today. And of note, just a few months ago he defended Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy when a Republican opponent ran attack ads critiquing her for staying in Washington during Hurricane Irma.

Whether he grabs Brock Long by the throat today, time will tell. But staffers say there will plenty of demands for FEMA services on the Gulf Coast, and making sure those needs get met will often demand Gaetz’s presence in Washington.

Gaetz staffers also note the preparations and immediate response to hurricanes fall under the jurisdiction of local and state officials, while the aftermath and recovery demand more attention from the federal government.

While district staffers went to shelters to speak with those affected by the storm, the vast majority of instant response to the storm will be handled by law enforcement or by county-led emergency management teams.

In any case, Gaetz does plan to return to the district tomorrow to assist with cleanup efforts in the Panhandle. And with the devastation from Michael becoming clearer every hour, it seems there could be FEMA efforts for years to come, regardless which candidate wins this Congressional seat a few weeks from now.

Greg Steube - CD 17 Campaign Photo

Greg Steube hosting first major event since April Freeman’s death

Republican Congressional candidate Greg Steube will host his first major campaign event since the death of Democratic opponent April Freeman.

Steube, a Sarasota state senator running in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, will attend a reception on Oct. 16 at Quail Creek Plantation in Okeechobee.

The event marks a return to campaigning following Freeman’s unexpected death in September. Freeman secured the Democratic nomination in August, the same day Steube won a heated primary over veterans advocate Bill Akins and state Rep. Julio Gonzalez.

But the race altered with Freeman’s passing. Steube immediately released a campaign statement he would suspend campaign operations out of respect.

“My thoughts and prayers are with April Freeman’s family in the wake of her tragic passing,” he said. “I respect her service to our community and admire her commitment to the causes she cared about. Out of respect to her memory, next week’s campaign events will be cancelled.”

Ultimately, events ceased longer than that as Steube had no Democratic opponent.

On Oct. 2, Democrats named Center for Economic and Policy Development CEO Allen Ellison as the replacement nominee for Freeman. Ellison yesterday announced a campaign team, days after the Democrat’s first public reception.

Steube and Ellison expect to meet for the first time at a Tiger Bay candidate forum scheduled for Oct. 18 in Bartow.

Freeman’s name will still appear on the ballot but votes cast for her will count toward Ellison.

Steube’s name, of course, still appears and his votes count for him, and that’s hardly his only advantage in the race. At last report, Steube had nearly $132,000 in cash on hand, while Ellison has yet to report any fundraising.

Retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican, won this district with 62 percent of the voter over the 34 percent for the Democratic nominee, Freeman. Republican President Donald Trump did almost as well, winning 62 percent of the vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 35 percent.

So the Republican heads back to the field with more than $100,000 at his disposal and plans to raise more, all while facing a Democrat with low name recognition in a deep red district.

The Latest: Official: Michael responsible for Georgia death

The latest on Hurricane Michael:

2:00 a.m. – An official with an emergency management agency says Tropical Storm Michael is responsible for a child’s death in Georgia.

News outlets report Seminole County Emergency Management Agency Director Travis Brooks says someone called 911 as the storm passed through the area and reported the death. WMAZ-TV quotes Brooks as saying a tree fell onto a home Wednesday afternoon and killed an 11-year-old girl. Authorities have not released her identity.

Brooks says responding crews reached the home after nightfall due to clear downed power lines, poles and trees.

Early Thursday, the eye of Michael was about 25 miles (40 kilometers) east of Macon in central Georgia. The storm had top sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) and was moving to the northeast at 20 mph (32 kph).

The National Hurricane Center says the core of Michael will move across central and eastern Georgia Thursday morning, and then over southern and central South Carolina later in the day.

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12:00 a.m. – Hurricane Michael’s battering waves swamped streets and docks and shrieking winds splintered trees and rooftops. The most powerful hurricane on record to hit Florida’s Panhandle left widespread destruction and wasn’t finished Thursday as it crossed Georgia toward the Carolinas, a region still reeling from epic flooding in Hurricane Florence.

Authorities say at least one person died, a man hit by a falling tree on a Panhandle home.

The supercharged storm crashed ashore Wednesday afternoon amid beach resorts and coastal communities, a Category 4 monster packing 155 mph (250 kph) winds. Downgraded to a tropical storm over south Georgia, it was weakening by the hour. But it’s still menacing the Southeast with heavy rains, winds and a threat of spinoff tornadoes.

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4:20 p.m. – A Red Cross official says it’s possible that as many as 320,000 people on Florida’s Gulf Coast did not evacuate and are likely riding out the storm.

Evacuation orders were sent by state and local officials to about 325,000 people. Emergency managers say they don’t know how many left the area, but there were about 6,000 people in 80 shelters in five states, including nearly 1,200 who are still in shelters following Hurricane Florence.

Michael went from a tropical storm to a projected Category 3 hurricane in around six hours and could have caught thousands off guard.

Brad Kieserman is the Vice President of Operations and Logistics for the American Red Cross. He says the storm “intensified extremely quickly and didn’t give anyone enough time to do much.”

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3:30 p.m. – The director of the National Hurricane Center says Michael is going to keep its strength even as it moves into Alabama and Georgia.

By 3 p.m. EDT, Michael still had top sustained winds of 150 mph (240 kph) as its core moved over Florida’s Panhandle.

Michael made landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, earlier Wednesday afternoon with 155 mph (250 kph) winds.

Hurricane center director Ken Graham says that when a storm comes ashore with winds that strong, “it’s going to stay a hurricane for a while.”

Michael’s large size means its winds will continue pushing storm surge inland as well. The hurricane center said a National Ocean Service water level station in Apalachicola has reported storm surge of nearly 8 feet (2.5 meters) above ground.

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2:45 p.m. – The National Hurricane Center says Michael is making landfall near Mexico Beach, Florida, as a catastrophic Category 4 Hurricane, pushing a deadly storm surge and whipping the coast with 155 mph (250 kph) winds.

Forecasters mark landfall as the place and time when the center of the eye strikes land. Minutes earlier, Michael’s eyewall came ashore between Panama City and St. Vincent Island, and the hurricane center warned everyone inside the relative calm of the eye not to venture outside.

Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles (75 km) from the center.

Those winds were tearing some buildings apart in Panama City Beach. One beachfront structure under construction could be seen collapsing, and metal roofing material flew sideways across parking lots amid sheets of rain.

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1 p.m. — The National Hurricane Center reports that Hurricane Michael’s eye will make landfall on the Florida Panhandle imminently and reminds everyone in the landfall area to remain in place despite the “relative calm” while the storm’s eye is overhead.

The storm is currently about 15 miles west southwest of Mexico Beach and about 20 miles south of Panama City and is moving to the north northeast at a speed of 14 mph. Maximum sustained winds remain at 150 mph, keeping Michael within the 131 to 155 mph range of a Category 4 Hurricane.

The Center said the Gulf County Emergency Operations Center in Port St. Joe has reported gusts of 106 mph while another station in St. Andrew Bay has reported sustained winds of 62 mph with gusts reaching 77 mph. The Apalachicola airport has reported sustained winds of 63 mph with a gust of 89 mph.

Additionally, the National Ocean Service water level station at Apalachicola recently reported over 6.5 feet of inundation above ground level.

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11 a.m. — The National Hurricane Center reports Hurricane Michael continues to grow in strength and now has maximum sustained winds of 150 mph. The storm continues its northeast trajectory at 14 mph.

Winds may arrive near land at 2pm, with the worst storm surge expected later today and this evening between Tyndall Air Force Base and Keaton Beach, where 9- to 14-foot inundation is possible.

The highest risk of catastrophic wind damage will be between Apalachicola and Panama City, but life threatening winds can be expected well inland into Alabama and Southern Georgia.

The National Weather Service advises life-threatening flash flooding can occur throughout the Panhandle and Big Bend.

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9:30 a.m. — FEMA Director Brock Long says his agency has nearly 3,000 people in the field ready to assist with Hurricane Michael.

He says teams and aircraft are ready to support any search and rescue missions in Florida or elsewhere, and that staging areas with commodities needed after storms have been set up in Atlanta and at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.

He also says the Federal Emergency Management Agency is working “hand-in-hand” with Gov. Rick Scott. He praised Florida’s use on Tuesday evening of the wireless emergency alert system to let residents know that the storm was getting stronger.

As for the many people who ignored orders to evacuate, Long said Wednesday that people “who stick around and experience storm surge unfortunately don’t usually live to tell about it.”

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9:25 a.m. —National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham is warning that a Category 4 hurricane will bring catastrophic damage to Florida’s Panhandle.

Graham says Michael’s top winds of 145 mph (230 kph) are powerful enough to peel off roofs and cause the “complete destruction of houses.”

Stretches of the coast could see storm surge of at least 6 feet (2 meters), with waters rising in some places up to 14 feet (4 meters) above the ground. Graham wants people to think about how tall they are, and just how high that water can be.

Michael is powerful enough to remain a hurricane well inland as it travels over Georgia on Thursday. Graham says falling trees will pull down utility lines, leaving some areas without power for weeks, and hazardous conditions will persist long after the storm blows through.

He says the aftermath of a hurricane is “not the time to start learning to use that chainsaw.”

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8 a.m. — Hurricane Michael is strengthening as it races over the Gulf of Mexico approaching a landfall along Florida’s Panhandle.

Forecasters say deadly storm surge, catastrophic wind damage, and heavy rainfall are imminent.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami says the Category 4 storm has maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (230 kph) and is moving at 13 mph (20 kph).

At 8 a.m., Michael was centered about 90 miles (145 kilometers) southwest of Panama City, with tropical storm force winds already lashing the coast.

The hurricane center says Michael will be the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall on the Florida Panhandle.

Michael roared nearer to the Florida Panhandle as a still-growing Category 4 hurricane Wednesday, lashing wind and rain and pushing a storm surge onto white-sand beaches and coastal communities hours before making landfall.

The unexpected brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression and grew swiftly into what could be one of the Panhandle’s worst hurricanes in memory, with destructive wind, up to a foot (30 centimeters) of rain and a life-threatening storm surge of up to 13 feet (4 meters).

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7:45 a.m. — Gov. Rick Scott is warning people in the path of massive Hurricane Michael that it’s too late to evacuate.

In a tweet on Wednesday morning, Scott said “If you chose to state in an evacuation zone, you must SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY.”

Hurricane Michael grew into a Category 4 storm overnight and officials at the National Hurricane Center in Miami say a storm that strong has never hit the Florida Panhandle.

Meanwhile the Bay County Sheriff’s Office warned residents that a “shelter-in-place” order has been issued, and urged everyone to stay off the roads. Sheriff’s officials say deputies will continue to respond to calls for now, but that will change as the storm approaches the coastline.

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Previous coverage — At 5 a.m., an Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunter crew reported top sustained winds up to near 140 mph (225 kph) with higher gusts. Michael’s eye was about 140 miles (225 kilometers) from Panama City and 130 miles (209 kilometers) from Apalachicola, but moving relatively fast at 13 mph (21 kph). Tropical-storm force winds extending 185 miles (295 kilometers) from the center were already lashing the coast.

Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate, including all non-essential personnel at Tyndall Air Force Base east of Panama City. The home to the 325th Fighter Wing and some 600 military families appeared squarely targeted for the worst of the storm’s fury, and declared “HURCON 1” status, ordering everyone inland.

Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida. But civilians don’t have to follow orders, and authorities feared many failed to heed their calls to get out of the way as the hard-charging storm intensified over 84-degree Gulf of Mexico water.

“I guess it’s the worst-case scenario. I don’t think anyone would have experienced this in the Panhandle,” meteorologist Ryan Maue of weathermodels.com told The Associated Press. “This is going to have structure-damaging winds along the coast and hurricane force winds inland.”

Maue and other meteorologists watched in real time as a new government satellite showed the hurricane’s eye tightening, surrounded by lightning that lit it up “like a Christmas tree.”

University of Georgia’s Marshall Shepherd, a former president of the American Meteorological Society, called it a “life-altering event,” writing on Facebook that he watched the storm’s growth on satellite images with a growing pit in his stomach.

Sheriff A.J. Smith in Franklin County, near the vulnerable coast, sent his deputies door to door urging people to evacuate.

“We have done everything we can as far as getting the word out,” Smith said. “Hopefully more people will leave.”

On the exposed coast of Florida’s Big Bend, most of the waterfront homes stood vacant in Keaton Beach, which could get some of the highest water — seas up 9 feet (2.75 meters) above ground level.

“I know it’s going to cover everything around here,” said Robert Sadousky, who at 77 has stayed through more than four decades of storms.

The retired mill worker took a last look at the canal behind his home, built on tall stilts overlooking the Gulf. He pulled two small boat docks from the water, packed his pickup and picked some beans from his garden before getting out — like hundreds of thousands elsewhere.

U.S. Senate authorizes reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee

The U.S. Senate authorized a proposal for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, which should cut down and potentially eliminate the discharge of blue-green algae into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio said the news should help Florida deal with the twin catastrophes of algal blooms in the rivers and red tide explosions on the east and west coast.

The Water Resources and Development Act, a massive bill that budgets money for inland waterways and maintenance for America’s locks, damns and ports, passed by a vote of 99-1, Only Utah Sen. Mike Lee voted against the bill.

TC Palm reports the bill includes federal funding for the $1.6-billion Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir, a solution proposed by the South Florida Water Management District.

Florida Sens. Rubio and Bill Nelson pushed for the reservoir’s including in the water bill this year.

The Army Corps of Engineers schedules discharges of water from Lake Okeechobee, which is coated with cyanobacteria, into the adjacent rivers to prevent the flooding of populated areas around the lake, but Nelson called for a complete re-evaluation of the schedule.

A number of environmental groups in the state say there’s a correlation between the blue-green algae and blooms with red tide because nutrients from one feed the other when the water discharges reach estuaries and saltwater.

The water management district said in its proposal use of the reservoir will “reduce damaging discharges to northern estuaries, deliver clean water for Everglades restoration and achieve water quality standards.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Sarasota Republican, said the bill this year included $15 million over five years to identify and develop strategies to fight red tide, and $3 million annually for the Army Corps of Engineers to identify and develop technology to detect, prevent and manage harmful algal blooms.

““Red tide poses a serious threat to our environment, marine life and economy,” said Buchanan. ““We need to understand more about the toxins in red tide so we can stop the damaging effects.  I strongly support efforts to prevent and mitigate this and other algal blooms.”

The bill passed the U.S. House by a unanimous voice vote last month.

President Donald Trump signaled support for the legislation this week and is expected to sign the bill into law.

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