By BRENDAN FARRINGTON and TAMARA LUSH
Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - Hurricane Michael is roaring down on the Florida Panhandle, gaining strength so quickly that forecasters expect it to become a Category 4 monster once it slams into the white-sand beaches, fishing villages and coastal communities.

The brute storm that sprang from a weekend tropical depression gained in fury and size just hours ahead of Wednesday's projected midday landfall, packed 125 mph (200 kph) winds as a dangerous Category 3 storm. Forecasters say it's expected to keep strengthening in the final hours before it crashes ashore as potentially one of the worst hurricanes in the region's history.

Florida officials said roughly 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate. Evacuations spanned 22 counties from the Florida Panhandle into north central Florida.

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