Coast un­easy as Her­mine hits Florida

Heavy rain, floods may trou­ble re­gion af­ter hur­ri­cane

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Ja­son Dearen

DEKLE BEACH, Fla. — 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 that could send it rolling up the densely pop­u­lated East Coast with heavy rain, high winds and flood­ing.

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.

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, said Gov. Rick Scott, who on Fri­day sur­veyed the dam­age caused by the hur­ri­cane.

An es­ti­mated 325,000 peo­ple were with­out power statewide and more than 107,000 in neigh­bor­ing Ge­or­gia, of­fi­cials said.

Her­mine was fore­cast to strengthen back into a hur­ri­cane by Mon­day morn­ing off the Mary­land-Delaware coast be­fore weak­en­ing again as it moves north. Trop­i­cal storm watches and warn­ings were posted up and down the coast­line.

In Florida, a storm surge at Dekle Beach dam­aged nu­mer­ous homes and de­stroyed stor­age build­ings and a 100-yard fish­ing pier. The area is about 60 miles south­east of St. Marks, where Her­mine made land­fall at 1:30 a.m. lo­cal time in the Big Bend area, where Florida’s penin­sula and pan­han­dle meet. Florid­i­ans walk Fri­day on what is left of a Franklin County road hit by Hur­ri­cane Her­mine.

In nearby Stein­hatchee, a storm surge crashed into Bobbi Pat­ti­son’s home. She wore ga­loshes and was cov­ered in black muck as she stood in her liv­ing room amid over­turned fur­ni­ture and an acrid smell. Tiny crabs darted around her floor.

“I had a hur­ri­cane cocktail party last night and God got even with me,” she said with a chuckle. Where her bar once stood was now only wet sand and rub­ble.

In Keaton Beach, about two dozen peo­ple waited on a road just af­ter sun­rise Fri­day, try­ing to get to their homes. Po­lice blocked the road be­cause of flood­ing.

Dustin Beach, 31, rushed there from a hos­pi­tal in Tal­la­has­see where his wife gave birth to a girl Thurs­day to see if his home still stood.

“When my wife got up this morn­ing, she said, ‘Go home and check on the house. I need to know where we’re go­ing af­ter we leave the hos­pi­tal,’ ” Beach said.

Cindy Simp­son was wait­ing near her car, hop­ing her beach home and boats sur­vived. “It’s a home on stilts so I put ev­ery­thing up­stairs. We have two boats in the boat house, and I hope they’re still there,” she said.

High winds knocked trees onto sev­eral houses in Tal­la­has­see, in­jur­ing peo­ple in­side.

It was some­time af­ter mid­night when Alan Autry, 48, started hear­ing the large pines in his Tal­la­has­see neigh­bor­hood crack and fall to the ground.

Then he heard one come down on the top floor of his house. The tree didn’t ini­tially crash through the roof, and Autry and his wife went to a neigh­bor’s house. Some­time be­fore dawn, the cor­ner of his house col­lapsed from the weight of the tree.

“We’ve been mar­ried 13 years and this is our fifth hur­ri­cane,” said Autry, who moved from cen­tral Flori- da six years ago. “By far, this is the worst dam­age we’ve ever had.”

Tampa and St. Peters­burg es­caped ma­jor dam­age. Up to 17 inches of rain fell in the area over the last two days.

In Wakulla County, south of Tal­la­has­see, at least seven homes were dam­aged by fall­ing trees, said Scott Nel­son, the county’s emer­gency man­ager.

As Her­mine surged into south­ern Ge­or­gia, 84-yearold Melvin Gatlin Sr. awoke be­fore dawn to the sound of a thun­der­ing crack that shook his whole house.

The storm’s winds up­rooted a pine tree in Gatlin’s back­yard and sent it crash­ing onto his home of more than 40 years. The trunk crushed a stor­age shed where Gatlin kept his deep freezer, lawn mower and other tools and ap­pli­ances. It also made a tear in the roof.

“I thought some­body had shot me, the way it sounded,” Gatlin said a few hours later.

The last hur­ri­cane to strike Florida was Wilma, a pow­er­ful Cat­e­gory 3 storm that ar­rived Oct. 24, 2005. It swept across the Ever­glades and struck south Florida, caus­ing five deaths and an es­ti­mated $23 bil­lion in dam­age.

The Florida gov­er­nor de­clared an emer­gency in 51 coun­ties. The gover­nors of Ge­or­gia and North Carolina also de­clared emer­gen­cies.

AN­DREW WARDLOW/(PANAMA CITY, FLA.) NEWS HER­ALD

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