PUNTA GORDA, Fla. (AP) - Hurricane Charley unexpectedly grew into a dangerous Category 4 storm Friday as it stored toward the coast of populous west-central Florida with 145 mph wind and a surge of water up to 20 feet high.
About 1.9 million people had been urged to evacuate as the storm rapidly gained strength in the Gulf of Mexico after swinging around the Florida Keys during the morning.
Latest projections from the National Hurricane Center suggested Charley would make landfall Friday afternoon near the line separating Sarasota and Charlotte counties, south of the Tampa Bay area that includes Tampa and St. Petersburg.
Forecasters feared Charley could generate a storm surge of up to 20 feet that could submerge miles of coastline.
Residents who hadn't left were told to stay home or head to shelters, and even the Charlotte County emergency operation center was evacuated as a precaution.
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