(Adds wind speeds increasing, new location of storm)
By Letitia Stein
TAMPA, Fla., Sept 1 Intensifying winds from
Hurricane Hermine lashed Florida's northern Gulf Coast late on
Thursday, as residents stocked up on provisions and some fled to
higher ground ahead of what the state's governor warned would be
a potentially lethal storm.
Conditions began to deteriorate late Thursday night as winds
were reported increasing to 40 mph (65 kph) with driving rains
knocking out power for residents in numerous coastal
Located about 40 miles (70 km) south-southeast of
Apalachicola, Florida at 11 p.m. EDT, it was expected to make
landfall early on Friday.
"Hurricane Hermine is strengthening fast and it will impact
the majority of our state," Florida Governor Rick Scott said in
a late-evening bulletin.
Hermine, expected to become the first hurricane to make
landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005, also posed a Labor Day
weekend threat to states along the northern Atlantic Coast that
are home to tens of millions of people.
On Thursday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center
extended a tropical storm watch to Sandy Hook, New Jersey.
Hermine became the fourth hurricane of the 2016 Atlantic
storm season around mid-afternoon when its maximum sustained
winds reached 75 miles per hour (120 kph). By 11 p.m. EDT,
maximum winds were listed at 80 mph (130 kph), with
hurricane-force winds extending up to 45 miles (75 km) from the
Hermine could dump as much as 20 inches (51 cm) of rain in
some parts of the state. Ocean storm surge could swell as high
as 12 feet (3.6 meters). Isolated tornadoes were in the
After battering coastal Florida, Hermine is expected to
weaken and move across the northern part of the state into
Georgia, then southern U.S. coastal regions on the Atlantic.
The governors of Georgia and North Carolina on Thursday
declared emergencies in affected regions. In South Carolina, the
low-lying coastal city of Charleston was handing out sandbags.
Scott declared a state of emergency in 51 of Florida's 67
counties, and at least 20 counties closed schools.
Mandatory evacuations were ordered in parts of five counties
in northwestern Florida and voluntary evacuations were in place
in at least three more counties. Twenty emergency shelters were
opened across the state for anyone displaced by the storm.
"This is life-threatening," Scott told reporters on Thursday
afternoon. "You can rebuild a home. You can rebuild property.
You cannot rebuild a life."
In coastal Franklin County, people on barrier islands and
low-lying areas on the shore were being evacuated.
"Those on higher ground are stocking up and hunkering down,"
said Pamela Brownlee, the county's director of emergency
Towns, cities and counties were hastily preparing shelters
for people and pets and placing utility repair crews on standby
ahead of the storm.
The storm was expected to affect many areas inland of the
Gulf Coast. In Leon County, which includes the state capital of
Tallahassee, more than 30,000 sandbags were distributed.
At Maximo Marina in St. Petersburg, Florida, dock master Joe
Burgess watched anxiously as waters rose 6 inches (15 cm) over
the dock at high tide on Thursday afternoon, before slowly
"If we get hit with a real storm head on, all the provisions
you can make aren't going to matter out here," he said, ready to
use a chainsaw to cut beams on covered slips if rising water
pushed boats dangerously close to the roof. "It'd be pretty
On its current path, the storm also could dump as much as 10
inches (25 cm) of rain on coastal areas of Georgia, which was
under a tropical storm watch, and the Carolinas. Forecasters
warned of "life-threatening" floods and flash floods there.
Still, many people in Florida, whose population has swelled
since the last hurricane struck 11 years ago, saw Hermine less
as a threat than entertainment.
Manatees on the Bay, a restaurant and bar on the waterfront
in the Tampa Bay region, was offering storm drink specials
including beer and shots.
"We thought about doing a hurricane," said owner Perry
Murphree, referring to the name of a popular sweet cocktail.
"But I don't want to tempt fate."
(Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Laila
Kearney in New York and Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas; Editing
by Bill Trott, Cynthia Osterman, Bernard Orr and Joseph Radford)