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Hurricane Hermine hits Florida, weakens into tropical storm

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ST. MARKS, Florida — Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Florida with a furious mix of rain, whistling winds and surging waves — then weakened into a tropical storm as it wobbled toward Georgia.

Hermine, which had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph, was the first hurricane to come ashore in Florida since Wilma struck 11 years ago.

It made landfall in the Big Bend area, a part of the coast where the state’s peninsula meets the Panhandle.

In Tallahassee, more than 70,000 utility customers were without power as winds and rain lashed the city.

Downgraded

A few hours after landfall, Hurricane Hermine weakened into a tropical storm, according to the National Hurricane Center.

All hurricane watches and warnings were dropped but tropical storm warnings remained for parts of the Florida Gulf Coast, Georgia and up through North Carolina.

By dawn Friday, the tropical storm was 20 miles west of Valdosta, GA, and moving north at 14 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

“This motion is expected to continue today and Saturday,” it said. “On the forecast track, the center of Hermine should continue to move farther inland across southeastern Georgia today and into the Carolinas tonight and Saturday.”

Its maximum sustained winds decreased to 70 mph, with additional weakening forecast as it moves farther inland.

It may also spawn a few tornadoes in northern Florida and southern Georgia.

‘You cannot rebuild a life’

Despite its short brush with Florida, life-threatening inundation remains a risk after rain pounded the Gulf Coast since Wednesday. Forecasters say much more is in store.

Several counties issued mandatory evacuation notices for Gulf Coast communities on the water or in low-lying areas.

A tornado watch was in effect for dozens of Florida and Georgia counties until 8 a.m. ET on Friday.

“This is life-threatening,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday as he urged residents to heed warnings. “We have a hurricane. You can rebuild a home. You can rebuild property. You cannot rebuild a life.”

He urged residents not to drive into standing water and to avoid downed power lines, saying crews are hard at work to ensure limited disruptions.

“We have 6,000 members of the national guard ready to be mobilized,” he said.

A few hours before landfall, Hermine lashed Apalachicola, Tallahassee, St. Petersburg and other cities.

The surge of ocean water could be as high as 9 feet above normal levels, forecasters said, as authorities warned its effect was not limited to Florida.

After making landfall in Florida, it could move into southeastern Georgia early Friday, the National Hurricane Center said before landfall.

“The center should then move near or over eastern South Carolina on Friday night and near or over eastern North Carolina on Saturday,” it said.
The storm is expected to deluge coastal Mid-Atlantic states from Virginia to New Jersey beginning early Saturday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

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