Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend area early Friday morning as the first hurricane to hit the state in more than a decade.
The Category 1 storm hit just east of St. Marks around 1:30 a.m. with winds around 80 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Hermine later weakened to a tropical storm as it moved farther inland.
Projected storm surges of up to 12 feet menaced a wide swath of the coast and an expected drenching of up to 10 inches of rain carried the danger of flooding along the storm’s path over land, including the state capital Tallahassee, which hadn’t been hit by a hurricane since Kate in 1985.
As of 5 a.m. Friday, Hermine was weakening as it moved into southern Georgia, the Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 20 miles west of Valdosta, Georgia, and was moving north-northeast near 14 mph.
After pushing through Georgia, Hermine was expected to move into the Carolinas and up the East Coast with the potential for drenching rain and deadly flooding.
In Florida’s Pasco County, north of Tampa, authorities said flooding forced 18 people from their homes in Green Key and Hudson Beach. Pasco County Fire Rescue and sheriff’s deputies used high-water vehicles early Friday to rescue people from rising water. They were taken to a nearby shelter.
In Wakulla County, south of Tallahassee, a couple suffered minor injuries during the storm when they drove into a tree that had fallen in the road, County Administrator Dustin Hinkel said early Friday. He said storm surge of 8 to 10 feet damaged docks and flooded coastal roads.
Gov. Rick Scott, who declared an emergency in 51 counties, said 6,000 National Guardsmen were poised to mobilize for the storm’s aftermath. The governors of Georgia and North Carolina also declared states of emergency.
Florida state offices are closed Friday in at least 37 counties, and many schools are following suit.
The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma, a powerful Category 3 storm that arrived on Oct. 24, 2005. It swept across the Everglades and struck heavily populated south Florida, causing five deaths in the state and an estimated $23 billion in damage.