US East Coast braces for impact as Hermine ploughs inland
Hurricane which lashed Florida and weakened to tropical storm set to regain strength as it moves
The first hurricane to hit Florida in more than a decade wiped away beachside buildings and toppled trees onto homes on Friday before ploughing 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 and was spinning inland along the North Carolina coast late on Friday. But the National Hurricane Centre predicted it would regain hurricane strength late in the weekend after emerging over the Atlantic Ocean.
The system could then lash coastal areas as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island through Labour Day.
“Anyone along the US East Coast needs to be paying close attention this weekend,” said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Centre.
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, Governor Rick Scott said.
He later took to a Blackhawk helicopter to visit the coastal communities of Cedar Key and Steinhatchee – hit hard by the damage from flooding and storm surge that crumpled docks and washed out homes and businesses.
Scott pledged that businesses would be eligible for help from the state. But it was unclear whether Florida would get any federal disaster assistance as the state began to clean up from the storm.
An estimated 325,000 people were without power statewide and more than 107,000 in neighbouring Georgia, officials said.
At 11pm, the hurricane centre said the tropical storm’s centre was about 48km west-southwest of Wilmington, North Carolina. Forecasters said the storm threatened a dangerous surge into Hampton Roads in southeast Virginia. Hermine had top sustained winds of 80km/h and was moving northeast at 35km/h.
Forecasters said the system could strengthen back into a hurricane off the Maryland-Delaware coast before weakening again as it moved north.
Tropical storm warnings were posted long the coastline. Rail network Amtrak said it had cancelled or altered some east coast services as the storm approached.
In Florida, a storm surge at Dekle Beach damaged numerous homes and destroyed storage buildings and a 90-metre fishing pier. The area is about 97km southeast of St Marks, where Hermine made landfall at 1.30am, in the Big Bend area, the meeting point of Florida’s peninsula and panhandle .
The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma, a powerful Category 3 storm that arrived on October 24, 2005. It swept across the Everglades and struck heavily populated south Florida, causing five deaths in the state and an estimated US$23 billion in damage.
The Florida governor declared an emergency in 51 counties and said about 6,000 National Guardsmen stood ready to mobilise for the storm’s aftermath. The governors of Georgia and North Carolina also declared emergencies.