Hermine storm surge predictions escalate in two Gulf Coast counties
Not only is Hermine now a Category 1 hurricane, but the storm is expected to bring even higher storm surges to coastal areas of two counties in Florida's Big Bend.
Up to 12 feet of storm surge is now possible in Taylor and Dixie counties, southeast of Tallahassee, Florida Gov. Rick Scott told reporters this afternoon in his first press briefing since Hermine was upgraded from a tropical storm earlier this afternoon.
Storm surges are also still expected in Citrus, Levy, Wakulla and Franklin counties.
Scott said 5-10 inches of rain are also likely in affected areas, "but there's a potential of up to 20 inches of rain."
Scott reiterated his message from earlier today that Hermine is "life-threatening."
"We can rebuild a home. We can rebuild a business. We cannot rebuild your life," Scott said.
State officials did not have an estimate available late this afternoon on how many people were under mandatory evacuation orders issued in portions of five Gulf Coast counties -- Franklin, Taylor, Dixie, Wakulla and Levy -- nor how many people had already relocated to emergency shelters.
"The good news is the majority of these are fairly small towns," said Bryan Koon, director of Florida's Division of Emergency Management. But the consequence of that is it could make it more of a challenge to rescue those in need who ignored the evacuation order, he added.
"Those are remote locations. That, coupled with the wind, could make it extremely difficult and dangerous for first-responders," Koon said.
"They should go to the shelters now," Scott urged residents.
Scott spent part of Thursday afternoon in Wakulla County, south of Tallahassee, where he said he met with county Sheriff Charlie Creel, St. Marks Mayor Chuck Shields and other local leaders.
"You're already seeing high water levels down there," Scott said. "You can see the water is coming in. ... We're seeing a little bit of street flooding; we're going to see a lot of flooding down there."
State offices in 51 counties were closed at noon today in advance of the storm's arrival this afternoon and overnight, but it's unclear yet whether they'll be closed Friday.
"We'll make a decision later on today," Scott said.
Koon said he spoke today with both the regional and national administrators of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A FEMA liaison is also based in the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee.
Damage assessments after the storm will help determine whether Florida will seek a federal disaster declaration, Koon said.
In preparation for Hermine's landfall overnight, utility companies have pre-positioned trucks along portions of Florida's Gulf Coast and 6,000 National Guard members are ready to be mobilized, Scott said.