The U.S. East Coast faces a potential mix of dangerously high winds and heavy rains over the long holiday weekend as Tropical Storm Hermine plowed up the Atlantic Coast on Saturday, leaving a path of destruction in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
Tropical storm and flooding watches and warnings were in effect along the Atlantic seaboard from South Carolina north to Rhode Island as the potentially life-threatening storm moved along a stretch inhabited by tens of millions of Americans.
“Hermine not only threatens to foil weekend getaways at the beach, but has the potential to cause damage in some communities and pose risk to the lives of those who venture in the surf or on the seas,” said Alex Sosnowski, a meteorologist, on Accuweather.com.
The storm was projected to creep north along the Carolina coast, then gather strength after moving offshore into the Atlantic on Saturday morning, possibly reaching near-hurricane intensity by late Sunday, the National Hurricane Center said.
The threat of severe weather caused officials in Atlantic City to cancel concerts over the weekend and beaches to close in several coastal communities.
Labor Day weekend plans for thousands of vacationers who were headed to popular beach spots along the Atlantic seaboard were dampened after the storm battered Florida’s $89 billion tourism industry.
“We’ll probably stay inside watching movies or going to the movie theater,” Joan Whalen told an ABC affiliate in Virginia after canceling plans to head to the beach for the weekend.
Hermine, the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years, swept ashore early on Friday near the Gulf shore town of St. Marks, 20 miles (30 km) south of the capital of Tallahassee, packing winds of 80 mph (130 kph) and churning up a devastating storm surge in coastal areas.
As of 5 a.m. EDT, the fourth named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season was about 60 miles (95 km) west-northwest of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, where 60 mph (95 kmh) winds were reported, the hurricane center said.
Early Saturday morning, crews in Wilmington, North Carolina rescued several people who were sitting on top of their vehicle after a flood engulfed their street, photos from local media showed. At least one tornado was reported touching down in North Carolina on Saturday, causing at least one injury, local media reported.
On Friday the storm passed near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, leaving some 51,000 power outages across the state, said state emergency management spokesman Derrec Becker.
Becker said localized flooding hit low-lying areas across the state, and there were widespread reports of “downed power lines, downed trees, trees on cars and some flooded cars,” along with isolated incidents of tree-damaged homes.
A total of about 150,000 households were without power in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, utility companies reported on Saturday.
Emergency declarations remained in effect for all or parts of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland.
Overnight, crews in Pasco County, Florida, rescued more than a dozen people after their homes were flooded.
Richard Jewett, 68, was rescued from his home in New Port Richey, just north of Tampa, as emergency teams carried out a mandatory evacuation.
“The canal started creeping up toward the house, and even though it wasn’t high tide it looked like it was coming inside,” Jewett said.
One storm-related death was reported by authorities in the northern Florida town of Ocala, where a fallen tree killed a homeless man sleeping in his tent.
In addition to powerful winds extending up to 185 miles (295 km) from its center, Hermine was expected to unleash a dangerous storm surge in the Hampton Roads area of tidewater Virginia, where flooding could become 3 to 5 feet deep, the NHC warned.
The storm also could douse several southeastern and mid-Atlantic states with up to 15 inches (38 cm) of rain through Sunday, the agency said.
New Jersey, still mindful of devastation from superstorm Sandy in 2012, was on high alert as emergency officials advised residents to prepare for flooding, high winds and a surge of seawater.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday activated his state’s emergency operations center and ordered officials to stockpile resources, including sandbags and generators.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said residents should avoid beach waters for fear of life-threatening riptides.
In Florida, concerns over the standing water in which mosquitoes breed intensified as the state battled an outbreak of the Zika virus.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Gareth Jones)