CARRABELLE — Hurricane Hermine made landfall in Florida’s Big Bend area early Friday as the first hurricane to hit the state in more than a decade.
The Category 1 storm hit just east of St. Marks around 1:30 a.m. EDT with winds around 80 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Hermine later weakened to a tropical storm as it moved farther inland.
Projected storm surges of up to 12 feet menaced a wide swath of the coast and an expected drenching of up to 10 inches of rain carried the danger of flooding along the storm’s path over land, including the state capital Tallahassee, which hadn’t been hit by a hurricane since Kate in 1985.
As of 5 a.m. EDT Friday, Hermine was weakening as it moved into southern Georgia, the Hurricane Center said. It was centered about 20 miles west of Valdosta, Georgia, and was moving north-northeast near 14 mph.
Residents check on a flooded street before turning back as Hurricane Hermine nears the Florida coast, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Cedar Key, Fla. Tropical Storm Hermine strengthened into a hurricane Thursday and steamed toward Florida's Gulf Coast, where people put up shutters, nailed plywood across store windows and braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hurricane in over a decade. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Seaweed covers a flooded street in Cedar Key, Fla. as Hurricane Hermine nears the Florida coast, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016. Hurricane Hermine gained new strength Thursday evening and roared ever closer to Florida's Gulf Coast, where rough surf began smashing against docks and boathouses and people braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hurricane in over a decade. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Hannah Coles, 9, takes a break from riding her bike to feel a strong rain band rain shortly Thursday afternoon, Sept. 1, 2016 in Gulfport, Fla. Coles was taking advantage of the day off from school to play in the rain and flooding. Tropical Storm Hermine strengthened into a hurricane Thursday and steamed toward Florida's Gulf Coast, (John Pendygraft/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
Andre Anton stops from gathering his families belongings as the rain continues pour inside of his home after a large tree crashed through the roof Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. "We have no place to go right now, trying to figure it out," said Dorman. The National Hurricane Center in Miami says Tropical Storm Hermine is gaining strength as it rumbles toward Florida's Gulf Coast. (Octavio Jones/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
Cedar Key police chief Virgil Sandlin checks on the downtown area as Hurricane Hermine nears the Florida coast, Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Cedar Key, Fla. Tropical Storm Hermine strengthened into a hurricane Thursday and steamed toward Florida's Gulf Coast, where people put up shutters, nailed plywood across store windows and braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hurricane in over a decade. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
Ariel Callahan, 5, left, and her grandmother Kelly Smith, navigate rain water at Anona Elementary School in Largo, Fla., Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2016. The National Hurricane Center in Miami says Tropical Storm Hermine is gaining strength as it rumbles toward Florida's Gulf Coast. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)
Certified nurse assistant Jennifer Smith rides out Hurricane Hermine inside the Hosford County Search and Rescue station doubling as a shelter for local residents as the storm makes land fall on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Hosford, Fla. Hurricane Hermine roared ever closer to Florida's Gulf Coast early Friday, sending battering waves against docks and boathouses as the state braced for its first direct hit from a hurricane in over a decade. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
Chaplain Chris Fletcher and his cousin Destiny Peters, 7, ride out Hurricane Hermine at the Hosford County Search and Rescue doubling as a shelter for local residents Thursday, Sept. 1, 2016, in Hosford, Fla. Hurricane Hermine gained strength Thursday evening as it roared toward Florida's Gulf Coast, churning up pounding surf that battered docks and boathouses as people braced for the first direct hit on the state from a hurricane in over a decade. (Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)
After pushing through Georgia, Hermine was expected to move into the Carolinas and up the East Coast with the potential for drenching rain and deadly flooding.
The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma, a powerful Category 3 storm that arrived on Oct. 24, 2005. It swept across the Everglades and struck heavily populated south Florida, causing five deaths in the state and an estimated $23 billion in damage.
Many took no chances with Hermine.
Tallahassee resident Tom Duffy, 70, said Thursday that he planned to reserve a hotel room for Friday night in the neighboring state of Alabama if downed trees caused the kind of power outages he expected. The city government tweeted there were about 70,000 power outages reported around the capital city early Friday.
“We’ve dodged bullet after bullet after bullet,” Duffy said, but added that Hermine has taken “dead aim” at the city, where blustery winds sent trees swaying before dawn.
In Carrabelle, on the coast just 60 miles southwest of Tallahassee, Courtney Chason was keeping an eye on the storm surge as docks and boat houses were slowly being battered as the storm approached late Thursday.
“I’ve never seen it this high, it’s pretty damn crazy. I’ve been in this area for 30 years but I’ve never seen it like this,” Chason said. “I hope it doesn’t get any higher, we need lots of prayers.”
Residents on some islands and other low-lying, flood-prone areas in Florida had been urged to clear out. Flooding was expected across a wide swath of the marshy coastline of the Big Bend — the mostly rural and lightly populated corner where the Florida peninsula meets the Panhandle.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned of the danger of strong storm surges, high winds, downed trees and power outages, and urged people to move to inland shelters if necessary and make sure they have enough food, water and medicine.
“You can rebuild a home, you can rebuild property, you cannot rebuild a life,” Scott said at a news conference Thursday afternoon, adding that “we are going to see a lot of flooding.”
Scott, who declared an emergency in 51 counties, said 6,000 National Guardsmen were poised to mobilize for the storm’s aftermath. The governors of Georgia and North Carolina also declared states of emergency.
Across the Florida line in south Georgia, about a dozen people had already showed up by Thursday evening at a Red Cross shelter that opened at a city auditorium in Valdosta that’s normally used for banquets and gospel concerts.
Cynthia Arnold left her mobile home for the shelter with her brother and her 5-year-old grandson, adding “I’m not just going to sit there and be ignorant.”
Rains of 4 to 10 inches were possible along the coasts of Georgia and the Carolinas by Sunday. Lesser amounts were forecast farther up the Atlantic Coast, because the storm was expected to veer out to sea.
Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro and Curt Anderson in Miami; Jason Dearen in Perry, Florida; Gary Fineout in Tallahassee, Florida; and Jeff Martin in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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