Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Florida early Friday, bringing sustained winds of about 80 mph and torrential rain along the coast for the first time since 2005.
Hermines hurricane status isnt expected to last long. The Category 1 storm will move through the mostly rural and lightly populated corner where the Florida peninsula meets the Panhandle and 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 dangers Thursday of strong storm surge, high winds, downed trees and power outages, and had urged people during the day to move to inland shelters if necessary and make sure they had enough food, water and medicine to get them through the next couple of days.
“This is a life-threatening situation,” Scott said on Thursday as the storm approached. “It’s going to be a lot of risk. Right now, I want everybody to be safe.”
Hermine is the first hurricane to directly hit the Sunshine State in more than a decade. Wilma, a powerful Category 3 storm rocked South Florida in Oct. 2005, causing five deaths and more than $23 billion in damage.
The National Hurricane Center said Hermine made landfall at around 1:30 a.m.
The projected storm surges of up to 12 feet menaced the coastline and expected rainfall up to 10 inches carried the danger of flooding through the storms path, including the state capital, Tallahassee, which hadnt been hit by a hurricane since Kate in 1985.
Courtney Chason, a longtime resident of Carrabelle in the Big Bend coastal area, warily watched as big waves began bashing some docks and boathouses, the angry surf flowing right over them. Water also crashed into yards closest to the shore.
“I’ve never seen it this high, it’s pretty damn crazy,” Chason said. “I hope it doesn’t get any higher; we need lots of prayers.”
Hermine also sent heavy squalls with its outer bands over Gulf coast beaches elsewhere.
By Thursday evening, the normally wide, sugar-sand beach on Florida’s Treasure Island was entirely covered in water. Palm trees whipped in the wind. Nearby, folks stood gawking at the abnormally large waves and took selfies ahead of the storm.
The city of St. Petersburg was littered with downed palm fronds and tree branches, and low-lying streets were flooded.
Parts of north Florida were already being hit with power outages with some 32,000 customers left in the dark overnight in Tallahassee. The city government website said that crews would repair work after the winds had died down.
Scott said that 6,000 National Guardsmen in Florida are ready to mobilize after the storm passes and ordered many state government offices to close at noon, including those in the Tallahassee, home to tens of thousands of state employees. The city has not had a direct hit from a hurricane in 30 years.
Residents on some islands and other low-lying, flood-prone areas in Florida were urged to clear out earlier Thursday.
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.
On Thursday, residents were out in force preparing for the storm, and stores began running low on bottled water and flashlights. City crews struggled to keep up with demand for sand for filling sandbags.
On Cedar Key, a small island along the Big Bend, about a dozen people went from storefront to storefront, putting up shutters and nailing pieces of plywood to protect businesses from the wind.
One of them, Joe Allen, spray-painted on plywood in large black letters: “Bring it on, Hermine.” Despite the bravado, he said, “I’m worried. You can never fully protect yourself from nature.”
Chris Greaves and family members stopped in Tallahassee to pick up sandbags for his garage and the church they attend. Greaves said he lived in South Florida when Hurricane Andrew devastated the area in 1992. While he said he doesn’t expect the same kind of widespread damage, he warned that tropical weather is “nothing to mess with.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.