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Hermine soaks Virginia after slamming Florida

The once-and-future Hurricane Hermine, now a tropical storm, was drenching coastal Virginia with heavy rains and winds Saturday as it moved up the East Coast.

Hermine could regain hurricane strength late in the weekend after spinning over the Atlantic Ocean, and lash coastal areas as far north as Connecticut and Rhode Island through Labor Day, forecasters said.

"Anyone along the U.S. East Coast needs to be paying close attention this weekend," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Hurricane Center.

The first hurricane to hit Florida in more than a decade rose up over the Gulf of Mexico, wiping away beachside buildings, toppling trees onto homes and leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity as it plowed onward to the Atlantic Coast.

About 300,000 homes were without electricity in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott said Saturday morning. Other outages included more than 107,000 without power in Georgia, 21,000 in South Carolina, 45,000 in North Carolina and 53,000 in Virginia.

"I want everybody to have their power. I want them to be able to take a hot shower," Scott said.

Governors Terry McAulliff of Virginia and Larry Hogan of Maryland declared states of emergency for coastal areas and warned of life-threatening storm surges.

Hermine pushed a storm surge powerful enough to crumple docks and wash out homes and businesses in Florida's Big Bend area. A homeless man south of Gainesville died when a tree fell on him, Scott said.

Scott observed damage in the coastal communities of Cedar Key and Steinhatchee by helicopter, and pledged state help for damaged businesses.

Forecasters said the storm threatened another dangerous storm surge in Hampton Roads in southeast Virginia as moved northeast at 21 mph (33 kph) with top sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph) at 8 a.m. Saturday.

Flash flood watches were in effect for northeast North Carolina and southeast Virginia, including Virginia Beach and Norfolk through Saturday evening.

A small tornado spawned by Hermine knocked over two trailers and injured four people on the North Carolina Outer Banks.

The storm forced Bruce Springsteen to move a Saturday night concert in Virginia Beach to Monday.

Further up the coast, Amtrak cancelled or altered some service as the storm approached. New Jersey officials ordered swimmers out of the surf. And Gov. Andrew Cuomo activated New York's Emergency Operations Center to begin preparations.

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. Tropical storm watches and warnings were posted up and down the coastline.

Back in Florida, a storm surge at Dekle Beach damaged numerous homes and destroyed storage buildings and a 100-yard fishing pier. The area is about 60 miles southeast of St. Marks, where Hermine made landfall at 1:30 a.m. in the Big Bend area, where Florida's peninsula and panhandle meet.

Nancy Geohagen walked around collecting photos and other items for her neighbors after the storm scattered them.

"I know who this baseball bat belongs to," she said plucking it from a pile of debris.

An unnamed spring storm that hit the beach in 1993 killed 10 people who refused to evacuate. This time, only three residents stayed behind. All escaped injury.

In nearby Steinhatchee, a storm surge crashed into Bobbi Pattison's home. She wore galoshes and was covered in black muck as she stood in her living room amid overturned furniture and an acrid smell. Tiny crabs darted around her floor.

"I had a hurricane cocktail party last night and God got even with me," she said with a chuckle. Where her bar once stood was now only wet sand and rubble. Pattison and two neighbors managed to set upright a large wooden statue of a sea captain she had carved from wood that washed ashore in the 1993 storm.

In Keaton Beach, about two dozen people waited on a road just after sunrise Friday, trying to get to their homes. Police blocked the road because of flooding.

Dustin Beach, 31, rushed there from a hospital in Tallahassee where his wife gave birth to a girl Thursday night to see if his home still stood.

"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 survived. "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.

High winds knocked trees onto several houses in Tallahassee, injuring people inside.

It was sometime after midnight when Alan Autry, 48, started hearing the large pines in his Tallahassee neighborhood start to crack and fall to the ground.

Then he heard one come down on the top floor of his house. The tree didn't initially crash through the roof, and Autry and his wife went to a neighbor's house. Sometime before dawn, the corner of his house collapsed from the weight of the tree.

"We've been married 13 years and this is our fifth hurricane," said Autry who moved from central Florida six years ago. "By far, this is the worst damage we've ever had."

Tampa and St. Petersburg escaped major damage. Up to 17 inches of rain fell in the area over the last two days.

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.

The Florida governor declared an emergency in 51 counties and said about 6,000 National Guardsmen stood ready to mobilize for the storm's aftermath. The governors of Georgia and North Carolina also declared emergencies.

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