Hurricane Hermine Hits Florida, Weakens into Tropical Storm
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September 2, 2016
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NOTE: This is not currently a FEMA declared disaster
(CNN) - Hermine smashed into Florida's Panhandle as a hurricane Friday morning before hurtling toward Georgia and the Carolinas as a tropical storm -- leaving thousands without power and setting up threats of floods and dangerous riptides along parts of the East Coast through the Labor Day weekend.
The outlook in short: Tropical Storm Hermine is a flash-flooding threat in parts of the Southeast now, and could eventually sit off the Mid-Atlantic coast for days, battering shores with strong winds and storm surges.
Hermine ripped into St. Marks in Florida's Big Bend region as a Category 1 storm just before 2 a.m., becoming the first hurricane to come ashore in the state since Wilma struck 11 years ago.
"There's nothing open in our county right now," sheriff's Maj. Trey Morrison said Friday in Wakulla County, where Hermine made landfall. He'd heard a report of a driver crashing early Friday into a fallen tree.
"If it's not an emergency, we don't need people out," he said.
The storm's outer bands may have killed at least one person. John Mayes, 56, was sleeping in a tent behind a gas station in Ocala, about 65 miles northwest of Orlando, when a tree fell onto him Thursday night, the Marion County Sheriff's Office said.
A medical examiner's office had yet to determine whether the storm was the cause, Gov. Rick Scott said.
More than 100,000 people were left without power in the Tallahassee area, where sustained winds of up to 80 mph toppled utility poles onto the ground saturated by inches of rain.
Videos and pictures shared on social media showed damaged streets near the landfall and downed trees throughout much of the state.
Hermine's outer bands also dropped more rain in the Tampa and St. Petersburg areas, which could ill afford it.
Floodwater lapped cars' hubcaps in parts of St. Petersburg, which received more than 9 inches of rain from Tuesday -- before Hermine arrived -- into Friday morning. More than 22,000 customers were without power in the area Friday morning, utility Duke Energy said.
Flooding also was a problem in Pasco County, north of Tampa. At least 18 people were rescued from rising floodwater there, Scott said.
Downgraded but dangerous
Hermine weakened into a tropical storm after landfall, but was moving through southern Georgia toward South and North Carolina on Friday as a flooding threat with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph.
Up to 10 inches of rain could fall in parts of Georgia and the Carolinas from Friday into Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm's center could move along the Carolinas' coast into Saturday morning before heading out into the Atlantic, where it may stall off the East Coast for days, forecasters said.
Tropical storm watches and warnings were declared along the East Coast, from Georgia north to Connecticut.
"I don't want folks to take the weakening of the winds to mean the hazards have gone away," hurricane center Director Rick Knabb told CNN's "New Day" on Friday. "The most frequent cause of loss of life (from tropical cyclones in recent decades) is from inland flooding due to heavy rainfall."
'The refrigerator was carried 30 feet behind the house'
On Alligator Point, part of a Gulf barrier peninsula about 35 miles south of Tallahassee, Ray Maynard spent Friday surveying damage to his home's first-floor storage room.
Three of the level's four walls broke away by design, allowing strong winds and storm surge to pass under the second, inhabited floor. He wasn't home when the storm hit, but he estimates about 2 to 3 feet of water surged through, bulldozing the walls and scattering what had been inside -- including a fridge and two barbecue grills.
"The refrigerator was carried 30 feet behind the house," said Maynard, a 58-year-old retiree who, with his wife, splits time between Alligator Point and another residence in Citrus County to the southeast.
"It's a major cleanup project. The whole (first-floor) slab is covered with mud now," he said. "Everything that was there, you either have to throw it away or wash it off and salvage it."
The road in front of his house -- already deteriorated from previous storms -- is now buried under sand and other debris from Hermine.
"Basically, I went from ... (having a house) behind the road on a beach to being directly on the beach," Maynard said.
In Panama City, a popular Labor Day destination, organizers canceled one of the major tourist draws, the Gulf Coast Jam. Officials said the stage for the three-day country music event had to be taken down as the winds picked up.
The governor had declared a state of emergency in 51 of the state's 67 counties. Scott told residents not to drive into standing water and to avoid downed power lines, saying crews were working hard to ensure limited disruptions.
"We have a hurricane. You can rebuild a home. You can rebuild property. You cannot rebuild a life," he said.
In Georgia, Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for 56 counties. And in North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory issued a state of emergency for 33 eastern counties.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe warned Friday that people faced a strong possibility of "life-threatening" storm surges in the Hampton Roads area and other coastal areas over the weekend. The governor was briefed by hurricane center officials, who showed him a map with storm surge projections.
"It is a chilling map in that it shows storm surges going all the way up the Chesapeake Bay," McAuliffe said. "We have been told of a very strong likelihood of a life-threatening storm."
The National Weather Service issued a new online product to help people prepare for the storm. The storm surge watch/warning graphic highlights spots with the highest risk for "life-threatening inundation from storm surge," the service said.
Zika concerns downplayed
The storm may leave behind large areas of standing water, but one expert said it shouldn't increase fears over the Zika virus.
"We associate severe rain events like tropical events and hurricanes with increases in nuisance mosquitoes, not disease-spreading (mosquitoes)," said Ben Beard of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The type of mosquito that could potentially carry Zika is affected by heavy rain and flooding, which also washes away larvae from small breeding sites such as bird baths and flower pots.
Nuisance mosquitoes will breed in water that remains standing after the storm passes.