Florida governor declares state of emergency in Panhandle as Hurricane Sally approaches

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This satellite photo provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows Tropical Storm Sally, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020, at 2050 GMT. Sally churned northward on Sunday, poised to turn into a hurricane and send a life-threatening storm surge along the northern Gulf of Mexico. (NOAA via AP)

MIAMI (AP) — Shortly after Sally reached hurricane strength, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the Panhandle’s two westernmost counties.

DeSantis issued an executive order Monday evening directing state resources to help with response, recovery and mitigation efforts in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. Federal assistance can also be sought for the areas.

Forecasters say Sally, now an extremely dangerous Category 2 hurricane, could approach major hurricane strength as it nears the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The National Hurricane Center said Monday that Sally has recently strengthened and developed an inner core, while the warm waters of the Gulf favor additional strengthen in the coming hours. The hurricane is currently packing 100-mph (155-kph) winds as it meanders offshore.

The Miami-based forecasting center said sustained winds of around 110 mph (177 kph) are now expected just before the hurricane makes landfall. That is just shy of a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, which is capable of catastrophic damage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for non-congregate sheltering, where evacuees can continue to practice social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The emergency order authorizes the activation of sheltering agreements with area hotels.

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