WALL TOWNSHIP — As the Florida panhandle prepares for what could be its worst storm in history, help from New Jersey is already on the way to assist with recovery.

Hurricane Michael has intensified into a Category 4 "major" hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, according to Townsquare New Jersey Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow. The center of the storm will make landfall just east of Panama City, Florida this afternoon.

Forty-seven members of NJ’s Task Force 1 search and rescue team who just returned from North Carolina to assist with recovery efforts after Hurricane Florence headed back out late Tuesday night, from their headquarters in Wall Township, for Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Alabama, to help with potential recovery operations because of Hurricane Michael. The team deployed with 14 vehicles and six boats.

The team is made up of police, fire, and emergency medical personnel from every county in the state and is skilled in a variety of search and rescue operations, including swift-water rescue, which will allow them to conduct rescue operations in flooded areas. One of the Task Force's three units always remains in New Jersey.

Seven American Red Cross volunteers from New Jersey are headed to the Gulf region to help with relief efforts, according to spokeswoman Diane Concannon.

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.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned it was a "monstrous hurricane," and his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Sen. Bill Nelson, said a "wall of water" could cause destruction along the Panhandle.

After pounding the southeastern United States, Zarrow said the storm will exit into the Atlantic Ocean around the Virginia-North Carolina border.

"Even though that's well south of New Jersey, we're still expecting some tropical rains and gusty winds here from Thursday through Friday morning," Zarrow said.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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