Power outages, flooding as deadly Hermine strengthens in Mid Atlantic

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By Chris Prentice and Ian Simpson

NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A powerful and deadly storm churned off the U.S. Middle Atlantic Coast on Sunday, where it was expected to spoil the Labor Day holiday weekend with high winds, soaking rains and surging seas after passing over North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

The storm, dubbed Hermine, claimed at least two lives in Florida and North Carolina.

It was classified as a Category 1 hurricane until it lost strength while cutting across Florida and Georgia, but forecasters expected winds to return to hurricane force of more than 74 mph (119 kph) by Sunday evening.

The National Hurricane Center expected the storm to move slowly up the coast before stalling off New Jersey, where it could linger for days.

“It’s going to sit offshore and it is going to be a tremendous coastal event with a dangerous storm surge and lots of larger waves probably causing significant beach erosion, for the next few days,” said senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown.

The NHC forecast the storm would move to about 100 miles south of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, by Wednesday evening, and continue on an east-northeast track over the following 24 hours.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency in three coastal counties of the state, which was devastated by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

The town of Beach Haven issued an emergency alert advising anyone planning to leave Long Beach Island, a barrier island that draws summer crowds, to do so before Sunday night’s high tide.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell declared a limited state of emergency for Sussex County, which includes the coastal resorts of Bethany Beach and Rehoboth Beach.

Hermine, the first hurricane to make landfall in Florida in 11 years, swept ashore on Friday near the town of St. Marks with winds of 80 mph (129 kph).

It left North Carolina with power outages, flooding, downed trees and power lines, while rain and tides brought flooding along Virginia’s coast.

In the northern Florida town of Ocala, a falling tree killed a homeless man sleeping in his tent. In North Carolina, a tractor trailer overturned on a bridge over the Alligator River, killing the driver.

Overnight, four people suffered minor injuries when a tornado hit a campground in Hatteras Village, Dare County, North Carolina, officials said.

People posted pictures of flooding and high tides from North Carolina to Delaware. “Almost getting blown away from this storm on the boardwalk in Ocean City was so worth it for Dunkin Donuts,” Twitter user Jessica wrote from a Maryland resort town.

In Virginia Beach, Seth Broudy, 45, owner of the Seth Broudy School of Surf, said high winds and tides flooded parking lots by his home on Saturday morning. The water and wind receded, but the ocean remained unsafe on Saturday afternoon, he said.

“Right now it’s rough as hell. It’s dangerous,” Broudy said in a telephone interview. “It’s just out of control. It’s like sitting in a washing machine and spinning around.”

Life-threatening storm surges are possible Saturday night and Sunday morning around Hampton Roads, Virginia, the hurricane center said. A surge is a rise of water above a predicted tide, pushed by high winds, and is often the greatest threat to life from a storm, according to national weather officials.

At 11 p.m. EDT (0300 GMT Sunday), the center of the fourth named storm of the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season was moving east-northeast at about 13 mph (21 kph) about 275 miles (440 km) east of Norfolk, with sustained winds of up to 65 mph (100 kph).

The tropical storm warning extends from Virginia to New Jersey and storm surges at the shores could reach up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) if they hit at high tide.

Virginia had 55,000 homes or businesses without power, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach reported downed trees and power outages across the cities and Norfolk was hit with up to 4 inches of rain, officials said.

Powerful winds extended more than 200 miles (320 km) from Hermine’s center, the NHC said.

Officials in Atlantic City, New Jersey, canceled weekend concerts and beaches were closed in several communities. A Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band concert set for Virginia Beach also was postponed to Monday because of the storm.

At least 250,000 households were without power from Florida through Virginia, utility companies reported on Saturday.

The storm was projected to dump up to 7 inches (18 cm) of rain in southeast Virginia and Atlantic coastal parts of Maryland and up to 4 inches (10 cm) in southern Delaware, southern and eastern New Jersey and Long Island, Brown said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday activated the state’s emergency operations center and ordered Long Island’s ocean beaches closed as of Sunday.

(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Frank McGurty and Chris Michaud in New York; Writing by David Bailey; Editing by Frank McGurty, Dan Grebler and Kim Coghill)

(Editing by Chris Michaud and Kim Coghill)
Copyright 2016 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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