By Chris Prentice and Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON/NEW YORK, Sept 4 A powerful Atlantic
storm strengthened on Saturday after passing over North
Carolina's Outer Banks en route to the U.S. Middle Atlantic
coast, where it was expected to spoil the Labor Day holiday
weekend with high winds, soaking rains and surging seas.
The storm, dubbed Hermine and classified as a Category 1
hurricane until it lost power while cutting across Florida and
Georgia, was expected to push slowly up the coast before
stalling off New Jersey, where it could linger for days.
Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said they
expected Hermine to turn to the northeast and slow in speed on
Saturday night, with winds again reaching hurricane force of
more than 74 mph (119 kph) by Sunday evening.
"It's going to sit offshore and it is going to be a
tremendous coastal event with a dangerous storm surge and lots
of larger waves probably causing significant beach erosion, for
the next few days," said Daniel Brown, senior hurricane
specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of
emergency in three coastal counties of the state, which was
devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
The town of Beach Haven issued an emergency advising anyone
who planned to leave Long Beach Island, a barrier island that
draws summer crowds, to do so before Sunday night's high tide.
Delaware Governor Jack Markell declared a limited state of
emergency for Sussex County, which includes the coastal resorts
of Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach.
Hermine, the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in
11 years, swept ashore on Friday near the town of St. Marks with
winds of 80 mph (129 kph).
It left North Carolina with power outages, flooding, downed
trees and power lines, while rain and tides brought flooding
along Virginia's coast.
In the northern Florida town of Ocala, a falling tree killed
a homeless man sleeping in his tent. In North Carolina, a
tractor trailer overturned on a bridge over the Alligator River,
killing the driver.
Overnight, four people suffered minor injuries when a
tornado hit a campground in Hatteras Village, Dare County, North
Carolina, officials said.
People posted pictures of flooding and high tides from North
Carolina to Delaware. "Almost getting blown away from this storm
on the boardwalk in Ocean City was so worth it for Dunkin
Donuts," Twitter user Jessica wrote from a Maryland resort town.
In Virginia Beach, Seth Broudy, 45, owner of the Seth Broudy
School of Surf, said high winds and tides flooded parking lots
by his home on Saturday morning. The water and wind receded, but
the ocean remained unsafe on Saturday afternoon, he said.
"Right now it's rough as hell. It's dangerous," Broudy said
in a telephone interview. "It's just out of control. It's like
sitting in a washing machine and spinning around."
Life-threatening storm surges are possible Saturday night
and Sunday morning around Hampton Roads, Virginia, the hurricane
center said. A surge is a rise of water above a predicted tide,
pushed by high winds, and is often the greatest threat to life
from a storm, according to national weather officials.
At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT Sunday), the center of the fourth
named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season was moving
east-northeast at about 13 mph (21 kph) about 230 miles (368 km)
east of Norfolk, with sustained winds of up to 70 mph (113 kph),
the NHC said.
The tropical storm warning extends from Virginia to New
Jersey and storm surges at the shores could reach up to 5 feet
(1.5 meters) if they hit at high tide.
Virginia had 55,000 homes or businesses without power,
Chesapeake and Virginia Beach reported downed trees and power
outages across the cities and Norfolk was hit with up to 4
inches of rain, officials said.
Powerful winds extended more than 200 miles (320 km) from
Hermine's center, the NHC said.
Officials in Atlantic City, New Jersey, canceled weekend
concerts and beaches were closed in several communities. A Bruce
Springsteen and the E Street Band concert set for Virginia Beach
also was postponed to Monday because of the storm.
At least 250,000 households were without power from Florida
through Virginia, utility companies reported on Saturday.
The storm was projected to dump up to 7 inches (18 cm) of
rain in southeast Virginia and Atlantic coastal parts of
Maryland and up to 4 inches (10 cm) in southern Delaware,
southern and eastern New Jersey and Long Island, Brown said.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday activated the
state's emergency operations center and ordered Long Island's
ocean beaches closed as of Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Frank
McGurty and Chris Michaud in New York; Writing by David Bailey;
Editing by Frank McGurty, Dan Grebler and Kim Coghill)