Florida governor issues warning as Tropical Storm Hermine gains strength

Tropical storm Hermine is gaining strength Thursday and is now projected to reach hurricane status. The latest forecast shows it hitting Florida – the first to hit the state in 11 years -- Thursday night with 60-mile-per-hour winds before moving up the East Coast.

Some people have been forced to evacuate, as heavy rains are already battering coastal areas. The storm has not yet reached the city of Clearwater, but it’s already seeing the impact and has declared a state of emergency. By the time it arrives, it’s expected to be a category one hurricane, reports Omar Villafranca.

Relentless rainfall, howling winds and rising waters pummeled Florida’s Gulf Coast as outer bands from Tropical Storm Hermine pushed toward the sunshine state.

“A little nervous, a little more than a little nervous,” one resident said.

“This is my parking lot… I don’t think I can park there,” said another.

Overnight in Sarasota, voluntary evacuations were underway. Emergency crews navigated through waist-deep water, looking for anyone possibly trapped.  

“Officers were actually -- they were coming up to me and their gun belts are underwater. They are actually up to here in water,” said Lt. Lori Jaress of the Sarasota Police Department, pointing towards her stomach.  

The storm has yet to make landfall but has already submerged streets in the coastal town of Gulfport, and dumped more than nine inches of rain on parts of the state. Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in more than 50 Florida counties.

“We have 8,000 members of our National Guard that are prepared to be mobilized, but you as an individual have to do your part,” the governor said. “Have water, three days of water, three days of food. And if you think you might need to go to a shelter, know where a shelter is.”  

Schools here will be closed Thursday. Some areas could see 20 inches of rain, and there’s even the chance of tornadoes in northern Florida and Southeast Georgia.