Wind and rain from Hurricane Hermine has battered Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, causing flooding and power outages.
Hermine made landfall early on Friday, becoming the first hurricane to hit the state in more than a decade.
Wind gusts reached 80mph (130km/h), the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
In the town of Cedar Key, waters rose more than 9.5ft (2.9 metres), among the highest surges ever seen, according to the National Weather Service.
It passed through Florida and has now weakened to a tropical storm, making its way through Georgia before heading for the Carolinas.
Police in Taylor County, Florida, that has a population of more than 20,000, said the storm had inflicted “severe damage“.
In the state capital Tallahassee, where people were urged to move to higher ground to avoid flash floods, at least 70,000 homes were without power at one point, affecting 60% of people in the region.
“Multiple” roads were blocked by debris and fallen trees, traffic officials in the city said.
South of Tallahassee, the town of Cedar Key saw a 6.6ft (two-metre) storm surge, raising high tide to almost 10ft.
Governor Rick Scott had earlier declared a state of emergency for 51 counties across the state.
“It is a mess… we have high water in numerous places,” Virgil Sandlin, the police chief in Cedar Key, told the Weather Channel. “I was here in 1985 for Hurricane Elena and I don’t recall anything this bad.”
Hurricanes in the US
- While Florida is prone to storms and storm surges, it has not seen a hurricane in close to 4,000 days
- The last hurricane to strike Florida was Wilma in October 2005, which made landfall in the same year as Katrina and caused five deaths and an estimated $23bn (£17bn) of damage
- The last tropical storm to hit Florida – what was once Hurricane Colin – was in June, and struck an area close to Hermine
- In fact, Hermine is the first hurricane to make landfall in the US since Arthur in July 2014 – no hurricanes touched down in 2010, 2013 or 2015
“This is life threatening. We have not had a hurricane in years,” Gov Scott said.
He added that 8,000 members of the Florida National Guard were prepared to be deployed in the wake of the storm.
Mr Scott ordered evacuations in five counties in Florida’s north-west and called for voluntary evacuations in three other coastal counties.
Category one: sustained winds of 74-95mph (119-153 km/h); some damage and power cuts
Category two: winds of 96-110mph (154-177 km/h); extensive damage
Category three: winds of 111-129mph (178-208 km/h); well-built homes suffer major damage
Category four: winds of 130-156mph (209-251 km/h); severe damage to well-built homes, most trees snapped or uprooted
Category five: winds of 157 mph (252 km/h) or higher; high percentage of homes destroyed, area uninhabitable for weeks or months
“I’ve never seen it this high, it’s pretty damn crazy,” said Courtney Chason, who lives in the coastal town of Carrabelle. “I hope it doesn’t get any higher; we need lots of prayers.”
The city of St Petersburg near Tampa was littered with downed palm fronds and tree branches, and low-lying streets were flooded.
Weather officials predict Hermine could bring heavy rains along the East Coast in the coming days.
Stacy Stewart of the National Hurricane Centre told the BBC there was a risk of tornadoes over the coming hours in those areas.
Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has declared a state of emergency for 56 counties.
Some models show that the storm will stall near the New Jersey coast next week, potentially bringing prolonged heavy rain to the area.