Tallahassee: Fierce winds and heavy rains are making their way toward Florida’s Gulf Coast early Friday as Hurricane Hermine approached land.
The storm, just south of Apalachicola, Fla., is pushing sustained winds of 80 mph. Hermine could produce wind gusts of up to 100 mph.
National Weather Service Meteorologist Jane Hollingsworth said Hermine is expected to make landfall around 1 a.m. ET but a strong band of the eastern eye-wall was already coming ashore, driving severe weather.
In all, 500,000 Floridians were under a hurricane warning late Thursday. As of 11 p.m. ET, the eye of the storm was roughly 75 miles southwest of Keaton Beach, Fla.
If Hermine maintains its strength and course, the hurricane would be Florida’s first hit from a hurricane since Wilma on Oct. 24, 2005, a record storm-free streak.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who issued warnings on the dangers of the storm, urged people to gather emergency supplies and to move to shelters across the state.
“The most important thing we all must put in our minds is that this is life threatening,” Scott told reporters at the Florida Emergency Management Center on Thursday. “We have not had a hurricane in years, people have moved here and we have visitors.”
Since Wilma hit Florida, the state’s population has risen by about 2 million people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since 2010 alone, the number of residents in the state grew by 7.8%. That’s a huge chunk of new Floridians who’ve never endured a hurricane.
Tom Rafferty, who has a residence a few hundred feet from the Gulf of Mexico in Cedar Key, Fla., was forced to evacuate his home.
“About 10 o’clock, watching TV. I said, ‘Oh, it’s going to blow over.’ I can hear the rain and, you know twigs falling. I went to get up to get a drink of water, I put my foot down, my foot got all wet and I said ‘uh oh,’ and I looked down, my floor was flooded,” Rafferty said.
He said right now there was “about an inch” of water in his residence.
“I didn’t expect it to be this deep,” said Rafferty, a resident of the island for three years. “I’m not going to worry about it. There’s going to be a lot of things to be replaced.
“Water damage and such, other than that no. It’s nature. We build on the earth. This is nature doing its thing.”
Along with the storm surge, Hermine was predicted to drop 5 to 10 inches of rain, with some areas possibly seeing up to 20 inches. A storm surge warning stretched from Apalachicola to Tampa Bay, according to a National Hurricane Center report.
A hurricane warning blanketed a good chunk of the Panhandle, from Mexico Beach to the Suwannee River. Hermine was expected to move quickly, with a National Weather Service forecast predicting its arrival in Southeast Georgia by Friday evening.
“I’m worried — I’m definitely worried,” Wakulla County Sheriff Charlie Creel said. “We’ve got high tide coming up, and we’ve got all of those people on the coast.”
Hermine prompted 20 counties to close schools throughout the state. Gov. Scott issued a state of emergency for 51 counties that also closed state offices. Florida State University, Florida A&M University and the University of Florida all closed, as well.