Hurricane Hermine wreaked havoc across Florida on Friday, knocking out power to nearly 300,000 homes and businesses, flooding low-lying areas and raising concerns about the spread of the Zika virus from pools of standing water left behind.
The first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years, Hermine came ashore early on Friday near the Gulf shore town of St. Marks, Florida, 20 miles (30 km) south of the capital of Tallahassee, packing winds of 80 mph (130 kph) and churning up a devastating storm surge in coastal areas.
Heavy downpours and high surf left parts of some communities under water early Friday, with mandatory evacuations ordered in parts of five northwestern Florida counties.
One storm-related death was reported by authorities in the northern Florida town of Ocala, where a fallen tree killed a homeless man sleeping in his tent.
Hermine, later downgraded to a tropical storm, was expected to snarl Labor Day holiday travel as it churned northeast after battering Florida’s $89 billion tourism industry.
As of 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT, the fourth named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season had reached the border between Georgia and South Carolina, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. The governors of Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia declared emergencies for all or parts of their states.
Though sustained winds had weakened to 50 mph (80 kph), the tempest headed toward the Atlantic seaboard on a path where tens of millions of Americans live, prompting storm watches and warnings stretching as far north as Rhode Island, NHC said.
It could strengthen again over the Atlantic and possibly douse the southeastern and mid-Atlantic states with up to 15 inches (38 cm) of rain through Sunday, with heavy showers possibly hitting coastal Delaware and New Jersey starting on Saturday night, the center said.
New Jersey, still mindful of the devastation caused by superstorm Sandy in 2012, was on high alert as emergency officials advised residents to prepare for flooding, high winds and a surge of seawater.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday activated his state’s emergency operations center and advised officials to stockpile resources, including sandbags and generators.
As it tracks north offshore towards New York, the storm was projected to stall at sea through Wednesday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.
New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said residents should avoid beach waters for fear of life-threatening riptides caused by the lingering storm. “I say that to people who go the beach, I say that to surfers: Don’t even think about it,” De Blasio told reporters.
As the sun rose on Friday morning on Hudson Beach, just north of Tampa, cars sat askew in the middle of flooded out roads. Palm fronds, tree branches and garbage cans were scattered about.
Overnight, Pasco County crews rescued more than a dozen people and brought them to shelters after their homes were flooded.
Richard Jewett, 68, was rescued from his home in nearby New Port Richey, around 1:30 a.m. EDT (0530 GMT) on Friday as emergency workers carried out a mandatory evacuation.
“The canal started creeping up toward the house and even though it wasn’t high tide it looked like it was coming inside,” he said.
A weakening Hermine moved across southern Georgia, blowing winds of 60 miles per hour (95 km) at 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), according to the NHC. The tropical storm was expected to reach the coastal Carolinas later Friday, then move offshore from North Carolina on Saturday. Forecasters said it could strengthen over the sea.
WORRIES ABOUT ZIKA
In Florida, concerns over the standing water in which mosquitoes breed intensified as the state battles an outbreak of the Zika virus.
“It is incredibly important that everyone does their part to combat the Zika virus by dumping standing water, no matter how small,” Florida Governor Rick Scott told a news conference, also warning people to watch out for downed power lines and avoid driving through standing water.
As the sun rose on Friday morning on Hudson Beach, just north of Tampa, cars sat askew in flooded roads. Palm fronds, tree branches and garbage cans were scattered about.
Overnight, Pasco County crews rescued more than a dozen people after their homes were flooded.
Richard Jewett, 68, was rescued from his home in New Port Richey, just north of Tampa, as emergency teams carried out a mandatory evacuation.
“The canal started creeping up toward the house, and even though it wasn’t high tide it looked like it was coming inside,” Jewett said.
In the island community of Cedar Key, waters rose more than 9.5 feet (2.9 meters), among the highest surges ever seen, the National Weather Service said.
(Additional reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Hudson Beach, Fla., Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Laila Kearney in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Cynthia Osterman)