Florida’s Gulf Coast Braces for Tropical Storm Hermine

CEDAR KEY, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s Gulf coast braced Thursday for a hit from Tropical Storm Hermine, which forecasters said could make landfall as a hurricane.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Florida’s Big Bend from the Suwannee River to Mexico Beach. And on the East Coast, a tropical storm warning was issued for an area that extended from Marineland, Florida, northward to the South Santee River in South Carolina.

Hermine’s maximum sustained winds Thursday morning were near 65 mph (100 kph). Some strengthening was forecast and the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Hermine was likely to be a Category 1 hurricane when it makes landfall in Florida on Thursday night or early Friday.

As of 8 a.m. EDT Thursday, Hermine was centered about 235 miles (380 kilometers) west-southwest of Tampa, Florida, and was moving north-northeast near 12 mph (19 kph).

Residents in some low-lying communities in Florida were being asked to evacuate Thursday as the storm approached. The Tallahassee Democrat (http://on.tdo.com/2c2jFxe ) reported that emergency management officials in Franklin County have issued a mandatory evacuation notice for people living on St. George Island, Dog Island, Alligator Point and Bald Point. Residents in other low-lying areas prone to flooding were also being asked to evacuate.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott ordered state government offices in 51 counties to close at noon Thursday. The order included the state capital of Tallahassee, 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 preparing 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.

People in the Big Bend area were getting ready for possible storm surge and heavy rain. In Cedar Key, Jordan Keeton said workers started placing sandbags Wednesday to protect his 83 West restaurant from possible flooding. He said he was mostly worried about the new equipment he’d recently purchased for the waterfront restaurant.

“This building right here is pretty safe and pretty strong so I think it will be all right,” Keeton said. “Pretty much the new equipment is my primary concern.”

Flooding is expected across a wide swath of the Big Bend area, which has a mostly marshy coastline. Florida’s Big Bend area extends from just east of the Apalachicola River in the Panhandle to roughly the Cedar Key area, which is west of Gainesville. It is made up of mostly rural communities and smaller cities off the beaten paths of Interstate 10 and Interstate 75.

In South Carolina, Friday night lights will be Thursday night lights in many areas. News outlets reported that high school football games in many areas will be played Thursday night because Hermine was expected to bring heavy rains to the state Friday.

In Charleston County, emergency officials have a message for residents: Stay home on Friday. The storm is expected to flood streets in the Charleston area which can see high tide flooding even on sunny days.

___

Associated Press writers Freida Frisaro and Curt Anderson in Miami contributed to this report.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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