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HURRICANE MICHAEL: Millions under tornado watch

Almost seven million people in Florida and Georgia were placed under a tornado watch Wednesday as the Coast Guard closed ports in Brunswick and Savannah, Ga., to commercial vessels because of winds from Hurricane Michael.

The watch, covering an area from Jacksonville and Ocala to Apalachicola Bay and stretching north to Athens, Ga., was to remain in effect until 2 a.m. Thursday. The watch issued by the National Weather Service meant conditions were favorable for tornadoes and severe thunderstorms to develop, but wasn’t a response to confirmed tornado sightings.

In Georgia, oceangoing commercial ships and large oceangoing barges were told to make plans to leave the ports, where sustained winds between 39 and 54 mph were considered possible in the next day. The order for Brunswick affected a major hub for shipping automobiles that last year had expanded facilities to handle moving 800,000 cars per year.

The closures were announced before the hurricane’s fury had spilled across the Panhandle and rolled on toward Georgia and South Carolina.

Although hundreds of miles away, the epic storm dominated weather and attention in Northeast Florida throughout the day.

When Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis talked to supporters in Mandarin on Wednesday, his campaign talk merged with a food drive for hurricane relief as he delivered his message from the back of a U-Haul truck covered with a sign saying “Florida Strong.” Supporters were urged to load canned food and water into the truck.

Across town, Jacksonville-area agencies made their own preparations for relatively modest impacts from the storm and some local colleges announced brief closures.

CONTINUE @ FLORIDA TIMES UNION