The first hurricane to hit Florida in more than a decade wiped away beachside buildings and toppled trees onto homes Friday before plowing inland on a path sending it up the East Coast.
Hermine quickly weakened to a tropical storm as it spun through Georgia and the Carolinas. But the National Hurricane Center predicted it would regain hurricane strength after emerging over the Atlantic Ocean. The system could then lash coastal areas as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island through Labor Day.
“Anyone along the U.S. East Coast needs to be paying close attention this weekend,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.
He said Hermine could become a post-tropical storm as it nears New Jersey, New York and Connecticut on Sunday, but he pointed out Sandy did the same in 2012 and still caused extensive damage.
In Richmond, Va. Governor Terry McAuliffe on Friday declared a state of emergency and urged residents to prepare for significant storm impacts generated by Tropical Storm Hermine, which has the potential to bring severe flooding, dangerous storm surge and damaging winds to Virginia.
The announcement follows a state of emergency that was earlier issued in North Carolina by Gov. Pat McCrory.
In Florida, Hermine’s main impact came in the form of power outages and damage from storm surges. A homeless man south of Gainesville died when a tree fell on him, Gov. Rick Scott said.
He later took to a Blackhawk helicopter to visit the coastal communities of Cedar Key and Steinhatchee hit hard by the damage from flooding and storm surge that crumpled docks and washed out homes and businesses.
Scott pledged that businesses would be eligible for help from the state. But it’s unclear whether Florida will get any federal disaster assistance as the state begins to clean up from the storm.
An estimated 325,000 people were without power statewide and more than 107,000 in neighboring Georgia, officials said.
At 8 p.m., the hurricane center said the tropical storm was approaching the tourist resort of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina amid warnings the storm threatens a dangerous storm surge up to southeast Virginia. Hermine had top sustained winds of 50 mph and was moving northeast at 20 mph.
Eric Fisher, chief meteorolgist for WBZ Boston, says the storm is expected to stall a bit after it crosses North Carolina and heads back into open water. The storm could generate wind and rain and storm surge for a large section of the New Jersey and New York coastlines into next week.
“There’s a big complicating factor with this storm,” said Fisher, noting that it could strengthen again into a hurricane as it stalls off New Jersey. Hermine could also bring the worst flooding to the New England coast since Super Storm Sandy in 2012.
In Georgia, Telfair County saw steady rain throughout the day as Tropical Storm Hermine left its mark on Friday. Residents awoke to gusty winds and heavy rain -- and in some cases, fallen trees.
Tropical storm watches and warnings were posted up and down the coastline. New York City is banning swimming at its beaches Sunday, and possibly longer, because there may be dangerous riptides as Hermine spins offshore.
Hermine is disrupting the travel plans of some 15.6 million people who are flying this weekend. Major airlines are dropping fees for travelers who wish to change their plans.
Amtrak says it has canceled or altered some service on the East Coast as the storm approaches.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that bridge closures and other measures could also be ordered as the storm evolves.
He warned New Yorkers to brace for heavy rains, strong winds and flooding in some coastal areas from late Saturday through Wednesday.
De Blasio calls Hermine “very troubling” and urges New Yorkers to take the storm seriously.
Check out live beach cameras from across the Carolinas here.
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