The Latest: Hurricane Hermine continues to strengthen

MIAMI (AP) — The Latest on Hurricane Hermine: (all times local):

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.


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."


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


10:20 a.m.

Charleston is making preparations for more flooding less than a year after historic rains caused closure of the South Carolina city's downtown.

City officials say that workers are clearing streets, drains and ditches in anticipation of heavy rains and high tides from Tropical Storm Hermine. They also are putting barricades in place in case they are needed to block off flooded streets while extra firefighters and police are being called in to deal with the storm.

Forecasters say the storm could bring 6 inches to 10 inches of rain to the area on Friday.

In October of last year, flooding from what was described as a 1,000-year storm inundated dozens of streets and intersections in Charleston. That forced city officials to keep motorists from driving onto the Charleston peninsula and into its historic district.


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.


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.


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."


8:20 a.m.

Friday night lights will be Thursday night lights in many areas of South Carolina this week.

News outlets report high school football games in many areas will be played on Thursday night because Tropical Storm Hermine is expected to bring heavy rains to the state on 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.

The Coast Guard has issued an advisory that all large oceangoing vessels need to leave the Port of Charleston. And no inbound vessels are being allowed to call until the storm passes.

The worst conditions from Hermine in South Carolina are expected to be during the day on Friday.


8:15 a.m.

The National Weather Service in Wilmington, North Carolina, is warning residents to be prepared for heavy rains, possible flooding and perhaps even tornadoes as Tropical Storm Hermine heads toward the state from the Gulf of Mexico.

The storm is expected to make landfall in Florida early Friday and by early Saturday the center of circulation should be near the Wilmington area.

A tropical storm watch has been posted for a number of counties in southeastern North Carolina and a flash flood watch is in effect for Friday.

Forecasters are warning residents to be prepared for several hours of heavy rains and strong winds of more than 40 mph on Friday.

A wide swath of eastern North Carolina could receive between 6 inches and 10 inches of rain during the next three days.


8 a.m.:

Residents in some low-lying communities of Florida are being asked to evacuate as Tropical Storm Hermine takes aim at the state.

The Tallahassee Democrat ( reports 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 area also being asked to evacuate.

A hurricane warning is in effect for Florida's Big Bend from the Suwannee River to Mexico Beach. On the East Coast, a tropical storm warning has been issued for an area that extends from Marineland, Florida, northward to the South Santee River in South Carolina.

Hermine's maximum sustained winds Thursday morning are near 60 mph (95 kph). Some strengthening is forecast and the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hermine is expected to be a hurricane when it makes landfall in Florida on Thursday night or early Friday.


7:40 a.m.

Florida's Gulf coast is bracing Thursday for a hit from Tropical Storm Hermine, which forecasters say could make landfall as a hurricane.

A hurricane warning is in effect for Florida's Big Bend from the Suwannee River to Mexico Beach. On the East Coast, a tropical storm warning has been issued for an area that extends from Marineland, Florida, northward to the South Santee River in South Carolina.

Hermine's maximum sustained winds Thursday morning are near 60 mph (95 kph). Some strengthening is forecast and the U.S. National Hurricane Center says Hermine is expected to be a hurricane when it makes landfall in Florida on Thursday night or early Friday.
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