Florida hit by first hurricane since 2005

A handout satellite image released by Nasa Earth Observatory yesterday shows Hurricane Hermine approaching the western coast of Florida.
A handout satellite image released by Nasa Earth Observatory yesterday shows Hurricane Hermine approaching the western coast of Florida.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Officials warn of life-threatening flooding and expect Zika fight to get harder

MIAMI • Wind and rain from Hurricane Hermine slammed Florida's northern Gulf Coast before it weakened to a tropical storm and ploughed its way overland towards the Atlantic Coast yesterday, as officials warned of "life-threatening" conditions.

Hermine had swept onto Florida's Gulf Coast in the early hours yesterday with winds and heavy rain causing flooding and cutting power to tens of thousands of people.

"There is a danger of life-threatening inundation within the next 12 to 24 hours along the Gulf coast of Florida," the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre (NHC) warned.

Hermine was the first hurricane to hit Florida since 2005 and experts said the expected flooding and damage would make it harder for the state to fight the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

The hurricane made landfall around 1.30am local time (1.30pm Singapore time) and its centre was around 80km north-east of Florida's capital Tallahassee, the NHC said.

Winds gusted up to around 110kmh as the storm moved north-east inland at around 22.5kmh, said the NHC.

MANDATORY EVACUATION

This is life- threatening. We have a hurricane. You can rebuild a home. You can rebuild property. You cannot rebuild a life.

FLORIDA GOVERNOR RICHARD SCOTT, urging residents to take evacuation orders seriously.

Some 70,000 people in rain-drenched Tallahassee were left without power. Local television stations broadcast video footage of buffeting winds and cars driving through flooded streets.

The authorities in several counties issued mandatory evacuation orders for residents living on the coast and in low-lying regions.

"This is life-threatening," Governor Richard Scott told journalists on Thursday, urging residents to take warnings seriously.

"We have a hurricane. You can rebuild a home. You can rebuild property. You cannot rebuild a life."

Hundreds of schools and government offices were set to be closed yesterday as residents braced themselves for the storm's full impact.

Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said 100 Florida National Guard personnel were activated, with 6,000 more on alert in the state and 34,000 members ready to be deployed from elsewhere in the United States.

Tropical storm-force winds extended up to 281km from the storm's centre, the NHC said, warning that "the combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will continue to cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline".

Hermine was expected to drop a total of 12cm to 25cm of rain over the south-eastern US from north- west Florida through southern and eastern Georgia into South Carolina and eastern North Carolina, with possible isolated maximum amounts of 38.1cm, the NHC said.

Once Hermine passes, the remaining water "will provide all kinds of breeding sites for the mosquitoes" that can spread Zika, said Dr William Schaffner, a professor of Infectious Diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville.

The hurricane is also likely to disrupt mosquito abatement activities as the state authorities prioritise other emergency efforts.

"It will make for more mosquitoes, there's no doubt about that," said Dr Joseph Conlon, a retired US Navy entomologist, who serves as technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2016, with the headline 'Florida hit by first hurricane since 2005'. Print Edition | Subscribe