The first hurricane to hit Florida in more than a decade wiped away beachside buildings and toppled trees onto homes Friday before plowing inland on a path that could send it rolling up the densely populated East Coast with heavy rain, high winds and flooding.
As the system pushed into Georgia, where it weakened to a tropical storm, it knocked down power lines in both states. Hundreds of thousands of people were without electricity.
"We will spend the coming days assessing the damage and responding to the needs of our communities and Florida families," Gov. Rick Scott said at Friday morning news conference.
The Category 1 storm hit St. Marks, located about 20 miles south of Tallahassee, around 1:30 a.m. ET with winds around 80 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. Hermine weakened to a tropical storm as it moved farther inland.
Hermine further weakened as it reached the South Carolina border Friday afternoon, but it could strengthen again.
At 8 p.m., the National Hurricane Center said the tropical storm was approaching the tourist resort of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, amid warnings of a dangerous storm surge up to southeast Virginia. Hermine had top sustained winds of 50 mph and was moving northeast at 20 mph.
Much of the East Coast braced for potentially drenching rain and devastating flooding through the Labor Day weekend. The hurricane center issued tropical storm watches and warnings as far north as the Connecticut-Rhode Island border.
Forecasters said the system could strengthen back into a hurricane by Monday morning off the Maryland-Delaware coast before weakening again as it moves north.
"Anyone along the U.S. East Coast needs to be paying close attention this weekend," center spokesman Dennis Feltgen said.
The heavy rain and flooding could hamper the state's efforts to fight the Zika virus, which was found in three groups of trapped mosquitos in Miami Beach, officials reported Thursday. Forty-nine cases of local transmission have been reported in Florida. Scott said its "incredibly important" for residents to dump any standing water — breeding grounds for mosquitos that may be carrying the Zika virus — no matter how little.
The governor also urged residents to avoid travel unless "absolutely necessary," and warned against driving in flood waters.
A homeless man in Marion County, south of Gainesville, was killed when he was hit by a tree as the storm moved through, Scott said.
At Florida's Dekle Beach, just south of the state's Big Bend where the peninsula meets the Panhandle, storm surge damaged numerous homes and destroyed storage buildings and a 100-yard fishing pier. Resident Nancy Geohagen walked around collecting photos and other items for her neighbors that had been thrown from storage.
"I know who this baseball bat belongs to," she said plucking it from a pile of debris.
At nearby Keaton Beach, about two dozen people waited on a road just after sunrise Friday trying to get to their homes. Police had the road blocked because of flooding. Taylor County Commissioner Jody DeVane said several homes were damaged.
Dustin Beach, 31, rushed to Keaton Beach on Friday from a hospital in Tallahassee where his wife had given birth Thursday night to a girl.
"When my wife got up this morning she said, 'Go home and check on the house. I need to know where we're going after we leave the hospital,'" Beach said.
Cindy Simpson was waiting near her car, hoping her beach home and boats had made it. "It's a home on stilts so I put everything upstairs. We have two boats in the boat house and I hope they're still there," she said.
In Tallahassee, high winds knocked trees onto several houses injuring residents inside, fire-rescue spokesman Mike Bellamy said. He said an unknown number were taken to area hospitals with injuries that weren't thought to be life-threatening. Bellamy said his agency responded to more than 300 calls overnight. Mayor Andrew Gillum estimated as many as 100,000 area residents were without electricity Friday morning.
In Florida's Pasco County, north of Tampa, authorities said flooding forced 18 people from their homes in Green Key and Hudson Beach. Pasco County Fire Rescue and sheriff's deputies used high-water vehicles early Friday to rescue people from rising water. They were taken to a nearby shelter.
As Hermine surged into southern Georgia, 84-year-old Melvin Gatlin Sr. awoke before dawn to the sound of a thundering crack that shook his whole house.
The storm's winds had uprooted a pine tree in Gatlin's backyard and sent it crashing onto his home of more than 40 years. The trunk crushed a storage shed where Gatlin kept his deep freezer, lawn mower and other tools and appliances. It also made a tear in the roof.
"I thought somebody had shot me, the way it sounded," Gatlin said a few hours later in his living room, where a cooking pot on the floor caught water dripping from the ceiling in a long, thin line.
An estimated 325,000 people in Florida were without power statewide and more than 107,000 in Georgia, officials said.
After pushing through Georgia, Hermine was bringing heavy rains to the Carolinas. Virtually all of South Carolina was under some sort of weather warning — tropical storm warnings near the coast to high wind warnings farther inland. Flash flood watches are posted everywhere except the state's far northwest corner.
The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma, a powerful Category 3 storm that arrived on Oct. 24, 2005. It swept across the Everglades and struck heavily populated south Florida, causing five deaths in the state and an estimated $23 billion in damage.