Stronger Hermine closing in on Florida
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.