Thousands woke up powerless in North Florida Friday after Hurricane Hermine roared ashore at 1:30 a.m. near tiny St. Marks in Florida’s Big Bend.
In a morning briefing, Gov. Rick Scott reported that about 253,000 had lost power after the storm landed with sustained winds topping 80 mph, making Hermine the first hurricane to hit Florida in a decade. Across the state, emergency workers were dealing with downed trees and power lines and beginning the clean up after storm surges swept across coastal regions, he said.
A falling tree killed a homeless man in Marion County, Scott reported, but the medical examiner had not yet confirmed the death was storm related.
In vulnerable Cedar Key, water reached nearly 10 feet at 1:30 a.m. Friday, according to preliminary readings from National Weather Service tidal gauges. Water rushed across streets, carrying mud and debris into businesses, Weather Channel stormtracker Kelley Williamson reported. Earlier Friday, WESH2 said two houses had burned down. Authorities continued to block roads as they assessed the damage.
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As the storm moved over land, winds slowed. By 11 a.m., the National Hurricane Center said winds had dropped to 50 mph. Tropical storms warnings were discontinued for Florida with the east coast between North Carolina and Delaware now coming under a warning as the storm picked up speed to about 18 mph. At 11 a.m., it was located about 55 miles southwest of Savannah.
Although Hermine has largely left the state, forecasters warned storm bands could still bring another one to three inches of rain to Central and North Florida.
Coastal areas suffered the most, with the most widespread outages. Scott said 99 percent of Wakulla County’s residents lost power. In Leon County, 68 percent lost power. Florida Power & Light reported customers without electricity from Jacksonville to Tampa, but overall a newly hardened grid kept the lights on. By Friday morning, power had been restored to 76,000 with about 10,000 still without electricity, said spokesman Bryan Garner.
In Tallahassee, Mayor Andrew Gillum said downed trees had blocked many major streets and outages were “pretty ubiquitous.” Gillum estimated as many as 100,000 local residents are without electricity, including 70,000 city customers.
Gillum said reconnaissance crews had just started venturing out, but had so far had not reported any serious injuries.
A storm surge rising between eight and ten feet hit parts of the Wakulla County coast, south of Tallahassee, Administrator Dustin Hinkel said Friday. Seawater rolled across county beaches, damaging docks and flooding coastal roads.
In the Tampa area, heavy rain caused flooding in many areas. Over the last 72 hours, parts received more than 22 inches, the National Weather Service reported. Downed trees and and power lines made driving treacherous, law enforcement authorities warned.
At least 18 people fled their homes in Pasco County as waters rose. County fire rescue crews and sheriff’s deputies used high-water vehicles to grab people from flood waters and take them to a nearby shelter.
Around 6 a.m., a hurricane warning in the Big Bend was cancelled. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for much of the area, including Tallahassee — where peak winds were forecast to reach 25 to 35 miles per hour with gusts up to 45 miles per hour. Forecasters say storm surges of several feet along the coast and heavy rain inland could continue through Friday morning.
At close to the storm’s peak about 2 a.m., about 70,000 customers quickly lost power in Tallahassee. Talquin Electric Cooperative, a rural electric provider in parts of North Florida, reported 37,800 customers without power across Leon, Wakulla, Gadsden and Liberty counties as of 5:30 a.m. In Georgia, about 30,000 lost power as the storm moved into the state early Friday.
More than 50 shelters remained opened, Scott said, where about 300 sought shelter from the storm. Schools and state offices will also remained closed, he said, with classes cancelled in 35 counties.
At least a dozen crews from the city of Tallahassee were dispatched early Friday to start clearing trees and debris from major roadways, the city said.
Four flights leaving the Tallahassee airport this morning were cancelled, along with an arriving flight from Tampa.
Throughout Thursday, forecasters and authorities had warned that Hermine, the first hurricane to make landfall since Wilma in 2005, could push seas inland, generating a dangerous storm surge that might reach nine feet in places.
The Weather Channel said that Franklin County was among the places hardest hit, but so far no injuries had been reported. Gov. Rick Scott, who rode out the storm in the Governor’s Mansion, is scheduled to give a briefing at 9:30 a.m. Friday.
The Associated Press and reporter Michael Auslen contributed to this report.