TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Sept. 2 (UPI) — The Sunshine State hardly lived up to its namesake on Friday, as Hurricane Hermine stormed ashore and left behind a soggy mess that killed one person and left a quarter-million others without electricity, authorities said.
Hermine arrived about 1:30 a.m. EDT Friday at Florida’s Big Bend area and carved a path between Tampa and the Panhandle with hurricane-force winds and torrential rains. Officials said a 56-year-old man died when he was hit by a falling tree.
John Mayes had been sleeping in a tent behind a gas station in Ocala when a tree fell without warning. Emergency workers had to cut through the tree to get to him, but they declared him dead on the spot.
Several homes and businesses in Taylor County, in the Panhandle area, were damaged from rising flood waters and at least 10 feet of storm surge. In Pasco County, unconfirmed reports of a tornado overturned a tractor-trailer and downed trees.
After reaching shore, Hermine immediately began losing strength — as storms pick up their speed from warm water in the oceans — and was downgraded to a tropical storm early Friday as it headed northeast.
By early Friday evening, it was over North Carolina — about 15 miles east of Charlotte, N.C. — and making its way to the Atlantic, the National Hurricane Center said.
“We expect to see downed traffic lights, road signs and power lines that must be avoided. We also expect to have significant amounts of flood water along coastal and inland areas,” Scott said earlier Friday.
Hermine was the first hurricane to hit Florida since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Forecasters said the storm, the eighth named system of the year, made landfall just south of Tallahassee as a Category 1 hurricane, bringing with it winds of 80 mph.
By late Friday, tropical storm warnings had been discontinued for Florida’s Gulf Coast, but meteorologists said tornadoes are possible for North and South Carolina throughout Friday night.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm should re-strengthen once it moves into the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday and picks up more steam from the warm water there.
“The combination of a storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline. There is the possibility of life-threatening inundation during the next 48 hours at most coastal locations between the North Carolina/Virginia border and Bridgeport, Conn.,” the National Hurricane Center said.
A tropical storm watch has been posted for parts of New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island as Hermine continues north. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned the storm could cause severe damages, including flooding.
“I don’t want anyone to take this one lightly,” he said Friday morning. “There are some elements of this storm that are very, very troubling.”