(ABC News)– Hurricane Hermine brought strong winds and flooding to a wide swath of Florida’s Gulf Coast early today, knocking out power to more than 250,000 people and raising fears of additional damage as the storm swept across the state.
The tropical system that spun off the warm waters of the gulf whipped up 80 mph winds that extended out 45 mph from the eye before weakening over land and being downgraded to a tropical storm.
Less severe but still dangerous winds of up to 74 mph spanned several hundred miles as the storm barreled inland over a section of Florida’s coast that stretched from Tampa to the barrier islands south of Pensacola.Related: Hermine hits Florida coast as 1st hurricane in a decade
The latest forecast this morning had Hermine’s maximum sustained winds at about 60 mph as it approached Florida’s upper-Gulf Coast.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott warned residents to avoid unnecessary travel as trees, power lines, road signs and traffic lights come down across the state. One man, who appeared to be homeless, was killed after being hit by a tree in Marion County. Officials are still determining whether the death was storm-related.
“The number one thing is to stay safe,” Scott told a news conference this morning, advising residents to steer clear of standing water and fallen power lines.
In the coming days, officials will assess the damage and respond to the needs of the affected communities in Florida. As of 9:30 a.m. this morning, 99 percent of homes in Osceola County were without power, the governor said.Powerful rip currents, high seas and minor coastal flooding threatened an even larger area of Florida’s coast.
Dangerous flooding continued to be a threat, even while the system slowed down as it headed toward Georgia.
Hermine made landfall at 1:30 a.m. this morning, becoming the first hurricane to hit Florida in 11 years, since Hurricane Wilma struck the Sunshine State in 2005.Related: Homeless man dies in Florida as Hermine hit
The last hurricane to make landfall in the United States was Hurricane Arthur in 2014, a Category 2 Storm that came ashore in North Carolina.
Hundreds of thousands of customers across the affected area have already lost power, notably in Tallahassee, where ABC affiliate station WTXL-TV reported more than 70,000 outages and residents posted pictures of a blackout at Florida State University.
Hundreds of schools and government offices announced closures as the state braced today for the storm’s full impact.
In addition to the hurricane-force winds, forecasters said, the storm could bring “life-threatening inundation within the next 12 to 24 hours along the Gulf coast of Florida.”
Storm surges may have reached as high as 11 feet in some areas overnight. The National Weather Service said much of northwest Florida and southern Georgia will be blanketed with 5 to 10 inches of rain in total through today, with maximum amounts of as much as 15 inches falling in isolated areas.
“These rains may cause life-threatening floods,” the National Hurricane Center said.
The city of Cedar Key in Florida’s Levy County recorded a record-high storm surge of 5.8 feet, forecasters said. And at least 18 people have been evacuated in Pasco County as a storm surge in the Gulf of Mexico and bands of heavy rain push water into low-lying areas of coastal neighborhoods, inundating homes and roads, officials said.As much as 10 inches of precipitation is expected from Florida up to North Carolina, while the Mid-Atlantic region to as far north as New Jersey is forecast to be hit with heavy rains by Saturday.
The National Weather Service said an area outside Tampa in Pinellas County recorded 22.36 inches of rain over the past 72 hours, while in nearby Largo 15.23 inches of rain has fallen. Other rain totals include 10.73 inches in Seminole, 9.71 inches in Longboat Key and 8.61 inches in Port Richey, The Associated Press reported.
The system will also increase the risk of a tornado outbreak across northern Florida and southern Georgia. Tornadoes in tropical systems typically are brief, but can be very destructive.
Even as the system headed out of Florida, its impact appeared far from overRelated: Hermine moves inland, Tropical Storm Watch issued for Connecticut
Hermine’s predicted path up the East Coast led the Hurricane Center to issue tropical storm watches all the way up to Sandy Hook, New Jersey. Forecasters expect Hermine to be just off the New Jersey coast this weekend with possible coastal flooding and beach erosion.
In the meantime, flash flood watches and warnings have been issued from Florida to Virginia, and heavy rain of up to 10 inches has been predicted from Georgia to the Carolinas, with isolated areas receiving as much as 15 inches.ABC News’ Max Golembo and Rachel Katz contributed to this report. The Associated Press also contributed.