Hermine strengthens to category 1 hurricane, taking aim at Florida

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Florida's Gulf coast is bracing for Hurricane Hermine to make landfall this weekend.

The latest on Hurricane Hermine: (all times local):

11 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center says the eye Hurricane Hermine is expected to make its Florida landfall in "the next few hours."

The Category 1 hurricane is roaring across the northwest Gulf Coast with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph).

As of 11 p.m. EDT Thursday, the eye of the storm is centered about 75 miles (120 kilometers) southwest of Keaton Beach, Florida.

It's moving to the north-northeast at 14 mph (22 kph) as it nears northwest Florida's Gulf Coast.

Forecasters are warning of the possibility of a life-threatening storm surge and flooding from heavy rains from the storm.

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9 p.m.

Some residents of the Florida capital city of Tallahassee lost power as Hurricane Hermine approached land. A city-maintained outage map shows power had gone out Thursday evening in various locations around the city, situated about 40 miles from the Gulf Coast.

The outages began just minutes after Gov. Rick Scott said that it was inevitable that the electricity would go out because the city is filled with "beautiful trees" that could come down on power lines.

Utility officials couldn't immediately be reached to determine how many customers were affected.

Tallahassee has not a direct hit by a hurricane in 30 years. Hurricane Kate caused widespread power outages and some of them lasted for weeks.

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8:45 p.m.

Officials in one south Georgia city bracing for Hermine are urging residents who live in mobile homes to go to a shelter.

A city auditorium in Valdosta was opening as a shelter Thursday evening, emergency officials said. About 15 miles north of the Georgia-Florida state line, Valdosta is expected to be one of the first Georgia communities in Hermine's path after the storm makes a Florida Gulf Coast landfall.

While most Valdosta area residents have been urged to hunker down at home, Lowndes County spokeswoman Paige Dukes says the powerful winds might be too much for mobile homes to withstand in that area.

Gov. Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for 56 south, central and coastal Georgia counties Thursday as Hurricane Hermine headed toward Florida's Gulf Coast.

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8:20 p.m.

As Hurricane Hermine strengthened in the Gulf of Mexico, it sent heavy squalls with its outer bands over Gulf coast beaches.

By Thursday evening, the normally wide, sugar-sand beach on Treasure Island was entirely covered in water. Palm trees whipped in the wind. Elsewhere along the beach, folks stood watching the abnormally large waves and took selfies.

The city of St. Petersburg was littered with downed palm fronds and tree branches, and low-lying streets were flooded.

The Sunshine Skyway Bridge on Interstate 275 remained closed due to high winds.

In Clearwater, one wastewater treatment plant was inundated with rain. City officials said the plant had backed up and wastewater had overflowed through the manholes in streets.

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8:15 p.m.

Courtney Chason, who lives in Carabelle along the Florida coast near the Big Bend area was keeping an eye on his neighbor's property closer to the water than his own home. He and his girlfriend warily eyed storm surge smashing against docks and boat houses. Some were covered by the angry surf, slowly being ripped apart.

Surf also crashed into yards just feet from the coast.

"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 Thursday evening. "There's going to be a lot of people mad when they get home. There's going to be a lot of cleanup."

He added: "I hope it doesn't get any higher; we need lots of prayers."

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8 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center says Hurricane Hermine is continuing to strengthen, with winds rising now to 80 mph (130 kph) as it nears the Florida Gulf Coast.

The center said in its 8 p.m. EDT update that Hermine was now centered about 45 miles (70 kilometers) south-southeast of Apalachicola - and about 105 miles (170 kilometers) west of Cedar Key, Florida.

The Miami-based center says the storm is heading north-northeast near 14 mph (22kph) and should cross the coast of Florida in the hurricane warning area later Thursday night or early Friday.

It says the storm poses a risk of life-threatening storm surge and flooding from heavy rains. Some slight strengthening is expected before it makes landfall and then weakening will begin after it crosses the coast.

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4:25 p.m.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has declared a state of emergency for 33 counties in the eastern part of the state as Hurricane Hermine advances toward the Southeast.

McCrory issued the declaration Thursday after meeting with state emergency personnel. The emergency declaration helps ease the movement of resources needed to respond to and recover from the storm.

The governor also issued an executive order waiving some truck restrictions on weight and hours of service, to help speed storm response.

Public Safety Secretary Frank Perry said National Guard soldiers, Highway Patrol troopers and Department of Transportation crews have been mobilized across the state.

The storm is expected to bring heavy rains, gusty winds and flooding to the state beginning Friday night.

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3:05 p.m.

The National Hurricane Center says data from an air force aircraft indicates that Hermine has strengthened to a hurricane, with maximum sustained winds increasing to near 75 mph (120 kph).

Hermine's upgrade from tropical storm makes it the fourth hurricane of 2016 in the Atlantic basin.

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1:30 p.m.:

The Florida Highway Patrol has closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge on the Gulf Coast due to high winds from Tropical Storm Hermine (Her-MEEN).

The bridge was closed shortly before 1 p.m. Thursday. Motorists are asked to find an alternate route.

FHP spokesman Steve Gaskins said in a release that winds averaged 46 MPH and gusted to 56 MPH.

The giant yellow bridge is along Interstate 275. It spans Tampa Bay between St. Petersburg and Manatee County.

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12:35 p.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott says Tropical Storm Hermine (Her-MEEN) is potentially life-threatening, and he's urging Gulf Coast residents to take precautions immediately.

At a news conference Thursday, Scott said officials expect storm surges, flooding, power outages, high winds and downed trees when as the storm comes ashore. Forecasters say Hermine will likely become a Category 1 hurricane before it strikes the upper Gulf Coast later Thursday or early Friday.

Scott says people in the area should take action now to protect themselves and ensure they have enough food, medicine and water.

The governor also says 6,000 National Guard members are ready to mobilize once the storm has passed.

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10:45 a.m.

Georgia's governor has declared a state of emergency for 56 counties as Tropical Storm Hermine heads toward Florida's Gulf Coast.

The alert runs from noon Thursday through midnight Saturday. Gov. Nathan Deal says severe weather related to the storm is expected in Georgia through Saturday. The included counties are in parts of south, central and coastal Georgia.

The Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency said Wednesday that the storm's greatest effect on Georgia could be heavy rainfall.

Director Jim Butterworth said the storm could bring flooding, tornadoes and power outages even if it does not make landfall in Georgia.

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10 a.m.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ordering state government offices in 51 counties to close.

Scott ordered the closing of offices at noon Thursday due to the looming threat of Tropical Storm Hermine, which is expected to swell into a hurricane before slamming into the state's Panhandle.

The order included the state capital Tallahassee and home to tens of thousands of state workers. The city, which is located roughly 35 miles from the coast, has not had a direct hit by hurricane in 30 years.

Residents were out in force Thursday morning to prepare for the storm and stores were already running low on bottled water and flashlights. City crews were struggling to keep up with demand for sand with sandbags.

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9:55 a.m.

The National Hurricane Center forecasts Tropical Storm Hermine may reach hurricane strength as it comes ashore likely as a Category 1 storm.

The latest forecast Thursday morning had Hermine's top sustained winds at about 60 mph as it approached Florida's upper Gulf coast. If it reaches hurricane strength, Category 1 wind speeds are between 74 mph and 95 mph, forecasters say.

The hurricane center also predicts storm surge along the coast to vary between one and three feet above ground level.

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9:35 a.m.

As Tropical Storm Hermine aims toward Florida's Gulf Coast, residents in the Big Bend area are getting ready for possible storm surge and heavy rain.

In Cedar Key, west of Gainesville, Jordan Keeton says workers started placing sandbags on Wednesday to protect his 83 West restaurant from possible flooding. He says he's mostly worried about the new equipment he's recently purchased for the waterfront restaurant.

Hurricane forecasters in Miami say the storm is expected to make landfall south of Tallahassee late Thursday or early Friday.

Flooding is expected across a wide swath of the Big Bend area, which has a mostly marshy coastline.

Keeton says he thinks his building is "pretty safe and pretty strong."
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