DEKLE BEACH, Fla. — Hurricane Hermine barreled ashore in Florida’s Big Bend early Friday as the first hurricane to hit the state in more than a decade, killing one person and raising a storm surge that destroyed beach-side buildings and bringing soaking rain and tens of thousands of power outages.
In Florida’s capital, toppled trees in Tallahassee also downed power lines and injured people in their homes.
As of 8 a.m. EDT Friday, Hermine had weakened from its peak wind speed of 80 mph to a tropical storm as it moved into southern Georgia. After pushing through Georgia, Hermine was expected to move into the Carolinas and up the East Coast with the potential for drenching rain and deadly flooding.
A homeless man in Marion County, south of Gainesville, was killed when he was hit by a tree as the storm moved through, Gov. Rick Scott said at a news conference.
At Florida’s Dekle Beach, just south of the state’s Big Bend where the peninsula meets the Panhandle, storm surge damaged numerous homes and destroyed storage buildings and a 100-yard fishing pier. It’s about 60 miles southeast of St. Marks, where Hermine made landfall at 1:30 a.m.
Rough surf smashes the shore as Hurricane Hermine nears the Florida coast on Thursday in Carabelle, Florida. | Joshua Replogle/AP
Resident Nancy Geohagen walked around collecting photos and other items for her neighbors that had been thrown from storage.
“I know who this baseball bat belongs to,” she said plucking it from a pile of debris.
An unnamed spring storm that hit the beach in 1993 killed 10 people as most residents refused to evacuate. This time, only three residents stayed behind. All escaped injury.
At nearby Keaton Beach, about two dozen people waited on a road just after sunrise Friday trying to get to their homes. Police had the road blocked because of flooding. Taylor County Commissioner Jody DeVane said several homes were damaged.
Dustin Beach, 31, had rushed there early Friday from a hospital in Tallahassee where his wife had given birth Thursday night to a girl 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 had made it. “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 residents inside, fire-rescue spokesman Mike Bellamy said. He said an unknown number were taken to area hospitals with injuries that weren’t thought to be life-threatening. Bellamy said his agency responded to more than 300 calls overnight. Mayor Andrew Gillum estimated as many as 100,000 area residents were without electricity Friday morning.
In Pasco County, north of Tampa, authorities said flooding forced 18 people from their homes in Green Key and Hudson Beach. Pasco County Fire Rescue and sheriff’s deputies used high-water vehicles early Friday to rescue people from rising water. They were taken to a nearby shelter. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge that spans Tampa Bay remained closed Friday morning because of high winds.
In Wakulla County, south of Tallahassee, at least seven homes were damaged by falling trees, said Scott Nelson, the county’s emergency manager.
At 8 a.m., Hermine had maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, the Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 35 miles northeast of Valdosta, Georgia, and was moving north-northeast near 14 mph.
As Hermine moved north, Georgia Power estimated about 19,000 homes and businesses were without power statewide early Friday. Many of those were in Valdosta and surrounding Lowndes County, about 15 miles north of the Georgia-Florida line. Lowndes County spokeswoman Paige Dukes said crews were dealing with fallen trees and snapped power lines, but no injuries had been reported. Winds exceeding 55 mph had been recorded in the county, with 4 to 5 inches of rainfall, she said.
The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma, a powerful Category 3 storm that arrived on 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.
Scott had declared an emergency in 51 counties. He said 6,000 National Guardsmen were poised to mobilize for the storm’s aftermath. The governors of Georgia and North Carolina also declared states of emergency.
Rains of 4 to 10 inches were 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.