By The Associated Press
Follow live updates about Hurricane Idalia, which made landfall in Florida as a dangerous Category 3 storm and is now crossing Georgia as a tropical storm.
— Hurricane Idalia rapidly strengthened as it fed on some of the hottest water on the planet during its approach
— A rare blue supermoon was bad timing for Florida’s west coast as Idalia’s surge came ashore
— Florida’s Big Bend is one of the last truly natural places in the state and was in the bull’s-eye of the major hurricane
Tropical Storm Idalia is pushing ocean waters inland across the South Carolina coast.
North Myrtle Beach, Garden City, Charleston and Edisto Island all reported ocean water topping sand dunes or walls and into beachfront streets.
The tide continued to rise in Charleston harbor. The National Weather Service in Charleston called it a dangerous situation and urged people to stay away from the beach and out of flood waters.
Idalia also spawned a tornado that touched down briefly in the Charleston suburb of Goose Creek, the National Weather Service said. The winds sent a car into the air and flipped it over, according to authorities and eyewitness video. Two people received minor injuries.
A falling tree killed a Georgia man clearing a blocked roadway Wednesday as tropical storm Idalida tore through the Valdosta, Georgia, area, according to Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk.
“The guy was out working on cleaning up a tree in the road, just a local citizen doing good things,” Paulk told The Associated Press. “A big gust of wind came up and dropped another tree, killed him instantly.”
A second person was seriously injured by the same tree and a sheriff’s deputy suffered minor injuries, Paulk said.
Meghan Barwick, Lowndes County government’s spokeswoman, said 90% of its homes and businesses were without electricity Wednesday evening.
Officials in one Florida county on Wednesday added snakes to the list of potential dangers people might encounter in the flood waters of Hurricane Idalia.
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office posted two photos on Facebook of a snake slithering across a flooded street, saying people should not wade into the water. Other potential dangers include downed power lines, hazardous chemicals and deadly diseases.
Idalia was downgraded to a tropical storm as it passed over Georgia.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm was centered 40 miles (65 kilometers) west of Savannah, Georgia, with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph). Hurricane force is 74 mph (119 kmh).
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, who declared a statewide emergency earlier this week as Idalia approached, warned residents in coastal and eastern inland counties to prepare for heavy rainfall and localized flooding, and urged them to stay off roads covered by water.
While many eastern school systems canceled classes or direct remote learning for Thursday, Cooper said no evacuation orders had been issued along the coast.
Sections of North Carolina east of Interstate 95 could receive between 5 and 8 inches (13 to 20 centimeters) of rain by early Thursday, Cooper said. Power outages also are expected.
“Always we want to keep an eye out on flash flooding and potentially riverine flooding,” Cooper told reporters at the state’s emergency operations center. “This storm is moving faster than people had anticipated. That means we’re going to get some stronger winds than we thought we were going to get, but maybe less rain.”
More than 100 National Guard soldiers and personnel with over 60 high-water vehicles were ready to deploy from staging areas, as are swift-water rescue teams, state Emergency Management Director Will Ray said.
The sheriff in the Florida county where Hurricane Idalia made landfall as a Category 3 storm says no deaths or serious injuries have been reported so far.
But Taylor County Sheriff Wayne Padgett said Wednesday that could change once the small towns along the beach are searched.
About 280,000 customers lacked power Wednesday afternoon in Florida, the vast majority of them in the Big Bend region where Idalia made landfall, according to PowerOutage.us.
About 175,000 customers were without power in Georgia as the storm’s center approached the Savannah area.
Officials closed two towering suspension bridges on the Georgia coast: The Sidney Lanier Bridge linking the port city of Brunswick to Jekyll Island; and the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge near downtown Savannah, which crosses the Savannah River at the Georgia-South Carolina line.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued no evacuations orders and isn’t planning to close state offices as storm Idalia is forecast to move along the state’s coast overnight.
“This is not as bad as some we’ve seen,” said McMaster, who has ordered at least three coastal evacuations since taking office in 2017. The state is ready to respond if the storm is worse than anticipated, McMaster said, and he encouraged people to stay home.
Flooding could be the state’s biggest threat. Wednesday evening’s high tide in Charleston Harbor was forecast to be nearly 9 feet (2.7 meters) above normal sea level, or about 3 feet (just under 1 meter) above normal high tide.
The city opened parking garages so people could park well above ground and gathered barricades to close off streets in the low-lying city, which frequently floods when tides are above normal.
Hilton Head Island Emergency Manager Tom Dunn said as much as 6 inches (15 centimeters) of rain combined with a potential storm surge of 4 feet (1.2 meters) could submerge parts of the island.
Airports in Florida are planning to reopen as Hurricane Idalia moves across Georgia, barely above hurricane status.
The Federal Aviation Administration cautioned on social media Wednesday that the storm is causing flight cancellations and that severe weather can affect flights beyond the immediate area.
Tampa International Airport announced it was reopening to arriving flights Wednesday afternoon and that departing flights and normal operations will resume early Thursday.
St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport said it was reopening Wednesday afternoon and that flights would resume Thursday. Sarasota Bradenton International Airport reopened Wednesday morning.
The National Hurricane Center’s 2 p.m. update indicated that Idalia’s center was about 100 miles southwest of Savannah, Georgia, with top sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph). Hurricane force is 74 mph (119 kph).
President Joe Biden called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to let him know federal support will be available to deal with destruction from Hurricane Idalia, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
DeSantis, the Republican governor and presidential candidate, indicated that the state’s needs were being met, Deanne Criswell, head of FEMA, told reporters during Wednesday’s White House briefing.
Criswell was with Biden when he phoned DeSantis, and the president stressed that over 1,500 federal personnel were in the area to assist with any response or rescue effort.
Biden also called the governors of Georgia and North and South Carolina to pledge federal support.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis says Hurricane Idalia brought down a 100-year-old oak next to the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee.
The governor said at a news conference Wednesday that the huge oak split in half and toppled right next to the mansion that serves as a home for the governor and his family.
Florida first lady Casey DeSantis posted a photo of the hulking tree, covered in ivy and hanging moss, split in two. One half of the tree appears to have come to rest beside one of the mansion’s wings.
Casey DeSantis says that she was home with their three children but that no one was injured.
Georgia officials said Hurricane Idalia brought down power lines and resulted in scattered reports of fallen trees damaging buildings.
Gov. Brian Kemp said Wednesday that the storm initially appeared to be less severe than 2018’s Hurricane Michael, which caused widespread damage in south Georgia. This storm is narrow and moving fast. He warned those in its path to be aware of the dangers.
Power outages are climbing, but officials hope winds will drop below 35 mph and crews can start reconnecting electricity later Wednesday.
Georgia Emergency Management Agency meteorologist Will Lanxton said storm surge would likely be limited by the storm’s speed, but there could be minor to moderate flooding around Savannah at high tide Wednesday evening.
Idalia remained a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 85 mph (140 kph) as it crossed south Georgia, the National Hurricane Center said at midday Wednesday.
The storm’s center is northeast of Valdosta, Georgia, and on a path toward the populous Savannah area.
Idalia’s fierce winds uprooted trees and sent rain flying sideways in Valdosta, near the Florida line. Video from news outlets showed a large tree toppled onto a house, an awning mangled and twisted outside a storefront, and standing water on some roads.
The White House said President Joe Biden would deliver remarks Wednesday afternoon about the federal response to Idalia.
In Florida, St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch said parts of the city were hit with about 4 feet (1.2 meters) of storm surge, with more water expected at high tide Wednesday afternoon.
Risk of tornadoes and live downed power lines remain, Welch said. No deaths in the city had been reported by late morning although some neighborhoods were flooded.
Three major bridges, including the Sunshine Skyway across the mouth of Tampa Bay, remained closed.
“Make no mistake, this hurricane left its mark. The reality is we are not done dealing with the consequences,” Welch said.
On the Georgia coast, workers finished tying down roughly 20 sailboats and motor yachts docked at the Bull River Marina on Wilmington Island just east of Savannah.
Brandon Long, a charter boat captain and the marina’s owner, planned to shut off the marina’s fuel lines and electricity before heading inland to ride out the storm.
Long said he worried most about the 3 to 5 feet of storm surge forecast to coincide Wednesday night with a higher-than-normal high tide amplified by a full moon.
“The surge is my biggest concern,” said Long, whose marina has more than 3,000 feet of floating dock. “If these docks float off their pylons or come apart because of the violent current and the choppy waters, then that’s what destroys a marina.”
The center of Hurricane Idalia moved toward southern Georgia after passing east of Tallahassee, Florida.
The National Weather Service says tropical storm-force winds of 39 mph (62 kph) with a gust of 63 mph (101 kph) were reported Wednesday at the airport in Valdosta, Georgia.
On St. Simons Island, winds are picking up as the hurricane approached the Georgia coast as it churned north. During the morning high tide, waves broke over the rocks at the island’s pier, which was closed to visitors.
The island about 70 miles south of Savannah is Georgia’s most densely populated barrier island, with about 15,000 residents. It took back-to-back hits from Hurricanes Matthew and Irma in 2016 and 2017, leaving hundreds of homes with flood damage.
Hurricane Idalia flooded streets of Florida from Tampa to Tallahassee, a stretch of more than 200 miles (320 kilometers).
Residents in vulnerable coastal areas had been ordered to pack up and leave as Idalia gained strength. Mayor John Dailey of Tallahassee, Florida’s capital, later urged everyone to stay put Wednesday because it was too late to risk going outside.
“The time to evacuate has come and gone,” Dailey said on NBC’s “Today” show. “It is time to shelter in place.”
In Clearwater, in the Tampa Bay area’s Pinellas County, the city is asking those who remained despite a mandatory evacuation order to restrict their water and toilet usage because the stormwater system is strained.
County officials say flooding had been reported on roads throughout coastal areas. The county sheriff’s office closed access to barrier islands, and much of Gulf Boulevard, along the barrier islands, is closed because of significant flooding.
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