The first hurricane to strike Florida in 11 years left a messy trail of severe flooding, downed power lines and trees across the state on Friday, but initial fears of a massive and powerful life-threatening storm appeared to have been unfounded.
A homeless man sleeping in the open near Ocala was killed when he was hit by a tree, officials said at a morning briefing, but otherwise there were no reports of deaths or serious injuries caused by the storm.
Hurricane Hermine made landfall near St Marks, on the gulf coast and south of the state capital, Tallahassee, at about 1.30am, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre reported. A category 1 storm with sustained winds of 80mph, it was moving north-east towards Georgia at 15mph.
It was downgraded to a tropical storm just before dawn, after leaving tens of thousands without power and flooding some coastal areas with a storm surge of up to 12ft.
Some of the most extensive damage was reported in Taylor and Franklin counties, where dozens of homes and businesses were under water.
Alligator Point got beat up pretty bad, said Pamela Brownell, emergency management director for Franklin.
The island of Cedar Key in Levy County was cut off and in Pasco County the fire department rescued 18 people from rising floodwater.
Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, said at the morning press conference that although reports were still coming in and that damage assessment would take several days, the homeless man in Ocala appeared to have been the only casualty so far of the state’s first hurricane since Wilma in October 2005.
First I was worried about the storm surge, it’s pretty scary, 6ft to 12ft, he said. We got a little less rain than we thought [but] what I worry about now is people driving in standing water, touching power lines. We have a lot of power lines down.
Scott warned that despite tornado watches being cancelled and the worst of the weather having passed, conditions would remain dangerous for some time to come. Residents emerging to assess damage needed to be careful, he said, adding: There’s still a lot of roads closed. Hopefully by the end of the day we’ll have a lot of this cleaned up.
Ahead of the storm’s arrival, Scott declared a state of emergency for 51 counties, freeing federal funds for emergency response and allowing easier movement of national guard troops.
On Friday, Florida’s electricity companies were working to restore power to more than 200,000 consumers who were cut off at the height of the storm.
News Source TheGuardianNews