A "monstrous" Hurricane Michael roared ashore on the Florida Panhandle Wednesday packing winds of 155 mph as the most powerful storm on record to ever strike the region.
Michael made landfall shortly after 1 p.m. ET just north of Mexico Beach, National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham told Fox News’ Shepard Smith.
The storm, described by forecasters as "unprecedented," quickly exploded from a tropical depression over the weekend to a Category 4 storm on Wednesday as it was fueled by warm water in the Gulf of Mexico before taking aim at Florida.
More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were warned to evacuate, and the hurricane's leading edge sent storm surge into neighborhoods as it approached.
The National Weather Service's Tallahassee office said that an extreme wind warning was issued for Panama City, Lynn Haven, and Callaway FL until 3:15 PM CDT for winds in excess of 130 mph.
"Treat these imminent extreme winds as if a tornado was approaching and move immediately to an interior room or shelter," the NWS said.
As Michael approached, Heavy waves pounded the shoreline in Panama City Beach, which caused a building under construction to collapse.
In nearby Apalachicola, storm surge sent water pouring into city neighborhoods and covering roadways.
"Michael is upon us, it is time to seek refuge. Once you are sheltered, STAY PUT," Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted. "Do not try to leave until the storm has passed. Multiple state and federal resources are staged and ready to respond as soon as it is safe.
Diane Farris, 57, and her son joined about 1,100 people crammed into a shelter in Panama City meant for about half as many. Neither she nor her son had any way to communicate because their lone cellphone got wet and quit working, according to the Associated Press.
"I'm worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don't know where they are. You know, that's hard," she told the AP.
More than 5,000 evacuees sought shelter in Tallahassee, which is about 25 miles from the coast but is covered by live oak and pine trees that can fall and cause power outages even in smaller storms.
Only a skeleton staff remained at Tyndall Air Force Base, situated on a peninsula just south of Panama City. The home of the 325th Fighter Wing and some 600 military families appeared squarely targeted for the worst of the storm's fury, and leaders declared HURCON 1 status, ordering out all but essential personnel. The base's aircraft, which include F-22 Raptors, were flown hundreds of miles away as a precaution. Forecasters predicted 9 to 14 feet of water at Tyndall.
Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Panhandle into north-central Florida. But civilians don't have to follow orders, and authorities feared that many people ignored the warnings to get out.
"We've told those who stayed to have their life jackets on when the storm comes," Tress Dameron, Franklin County emergency management coordinator, told The News Herald in Panama City.
Meanwhile, President Trump was briefed on Hurricane Michael as it closed in on the Florida Panhandle, and was warned of the power of the storm as he meets with his Homeland Security Secretary and the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long.
Long described storm as a "Gulf Coast hurricane of the worst kind," which he said will be similar in strength to "an EF3 tornado making landfall."
Trump said he spoke with Florida Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday and says the federal government is coordinating with all of the states that could be impacted.
After lashing the coast of Florida, rainfall up to 12 inches is possible and may cause flash-flooding inland. But unlike Hurricane Florence, Michael will accelerate Wednesday night and Thursday, preventing any long-term flooding from rainfall, according to Fox News Senior Meteorologist Janice Dean.
"The Carolinas will, unfortunately, get more rain on top of the flooding damage they had with Hurricane Florence," she said.
Isolated tornadoes are also possible from North Florida and the Panhandle through Georgia and South Carolina as the storm continues moving north.
Fox News’ Lucas Tomlinson and The Associated Press contributed to this report.