Stronger Her­mine clos­ing in on Florida

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND NATION - By Josh Replogle

CEDAR KEY, Fla. — Trop­i­cal Storm Her­mine strength­ened into a hur­ri­cane Thurs­day and steamed to­ward Florida’s Gulf Coast, where peo­ple put up shut­ters, nailed ply­wood across store win­dows and braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hur­ri­cane in over a decade.

The Na­tional Hur­ri­cane Cen­ter said the storm’s winds reached 75 mph, just above the 74 mph hur­ri­cane thresh­old.

Her­mine was ex­pected to blow ashore late Thurs­day or early Fri­day along the state’s Big Bend — the mostly ru­ral and lightly pop­u­lated cor­ner where the Florida penin­sula meets the Pan­han­dle — then drop back down to a trop­i­cal storm and push into Ge­or­gia, the Caroli­nas and up the East Coast with the po­ten­tial for drench­ing rain and deadly flood­ing.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned of the dan­ger of strong storm surge, high winds, downed trees and power out­ages, and urged peo­ple to move to in­land shel­ters if nec­es­sary and make sure they have enough food, wa­ter and medicine.

“This is a life-threatening sit­u­a­tion,” Scott said of the Cat­e­gory 1 hur­ri­cane. “It’s go­ing to be a lot of risk. Right now, I want ev­ery­body to be safe.”

Scott added that 6,000 Na­tional Guards­men in Florida are ready to mo­bi­lize af­ter the storm passes. The gov­er­nors of Ge­or­gia and North Carolina de­clared states of emer­gency.

Her­mine was in the Gulf of Mexico, cen­tered about 45 miles south of Apalachicola, Fla., and was mov­ing north­east at about 14 mph. Fore­cast­ers said it would strengthen slightly be­fore blow­ing ashore but would still be only a Cat­e­gory 1 Holmes Beach, Fla., res­i­dents sur­vey the wa­ter Thurs­day as Hur­ri­cane Her­mine sweeps to­ward the Gulf Coast side.

Hawaii on alert

HILO, Hawaii — Hur­ri­cane Lester was about 640 miles east of Hilo with max­i­mum sus­tained winds of 120 mph. Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Ian Mor­ri­son said the Cat­e­gory 3 storm strength­ened slightly Thurs­day, but it was ex­pected to weaken. He said Lester could be­gin af­fect­ing the is­lands Fri­day night.

The state Depart­ment of Ed­u­ca­tion said schools on the Big Is­land will re-open Fri­day in the wake of Trop­i­cal Storm Made­line, which skirted the is­lands Wed­nes­day. hur­ri­cane, mean­ing a wind speed of 74 to 95 mph.

Pro­jected rain­fall ranged up to 10 inches in parts of north­ern Florida and south­ern Ge­or­gia, with 4 to 10 inches pos­si­ble along the coasts of Ge­or­gia and the Caroli­nas by Sun­day. Lesser amounts were fore­cast far­ther up the At­lantic Coast, be­cause the storm was ex­pected to veer out to sea.

Res­i­dents on some is­lands and other low-ly­ing, flood-prone ar­eas in Florida were urged to clear out. Flood­ing was ex­pected across a wide swath of the Big Bend, which has a marshy coast­line and is made up of mostly ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties and small towns, where fish­ing, hunt­ing and camp­ing are main­stays of life.

Spyri­don Aibejeris, 36, crouched in the mud, the seashore just a few feet away, help­ing some campers change flat tires on a trailer so that it could be evac­u­ated from the Keaton Beach camp­ground he and his fam­ily man­age.

“We al­ready moved about 40 of them as fast as we could,” he said. He sent his wife and daugh­ter into the nearby town of Perry. “I’ve heard 80 mph winds are com­ing. It could rip sid­ing off my house.”

The last hur­ri­cane to strike Florida was Wilma, a Cat­e­gory 3 storm that ar­rived 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.

In South Carolina, Fri­day night high school foot­ball games in many ar­eas were moved up to Thurs­day night be­cause Her­mine was ex­pected to bring heavy rain on Fri­day.

The storm is ex­pected to flood streets in the Charleston area, which can see flood­ing at high tide even on sunny days.


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