UPDATE – Michael strengthens to Category 3 on way to US

CHANGES HEAD AND DECK, ADDS DETAILS THROUGHOUT

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – Hurricane Michael continued to gain strength Tuesday, intensifying to a Category 3 storm on its way to Florida’s Panhandle region.

The storm is moving at just 12 miles per hour (19 kph), increasing concerns about the damage its 120 mph (193 kph) winds would bring to Florida as it heads north by northwest.

"We need to be getting ready for this," National Hurricane Center (NHC) Director Ken Graham said during a Facebook live presentation.

"We look at the arrival of tropical storm-force winds as when we need to be ready, and guess what? That's today."

"Listen to those local officials. If they tell you to leave, that means you're in danger," he said.

Officials are expecting up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, with some areas receiving 12 inches (30 centimeters).

The NHC warned that a life-threatening storm surge of anywhere from 9 to 13 feet (3 to 4 meters) is possible in certain areas.

Florida Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for 35 counties ahead of the storm's landfall and also got U.S. President Donald Trump's approval for an emergency declaration which will provide the state with assistance and resources from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"As Hurricane Michael nears landfall, we are working with state and local officials in Florida to take all necessary precautions, and we urge all residents to be prepared and to heed local officials," Trump said while in Florida to speak at a national police convention.

Michael will become the first major hurricane to hit Florida during the month of October since 2005.

*Umar Farooq contributed to this story

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