Hurricane Hermine made landfall on Florida's northwest coast early Friday, toppling trees and utility lines, cutting power to tens of thousands and leaving at least one person dead.
The Category 1 hurricane roared ashore from the Gulf of Mexico near St. Marks, south of Tallahassee, with sustained winds of 80 mph at around 1:30 a.m. ET.
It was downgraded to a tropical storm by 4:45 a.m. as it churned slowly toward the Carolinas. As of 11 a.m., Hermine was centered about 55 miles west-southwest of Savannah, Georgia, and moving northeast at 18 mph.
By 10 a.m. ET, more than 253,000 customers were without power in Florida, said Gov. Rick Scott, with Wakulla, Leon, Taylor, Hamilton, Jefferson and Madison counties widely affected.
Scott said at a Friday morning news conference that one person was killed in Florida when a tree fell on a tent in a homeless camp in Marion County, south of Gainesville. The man was identified as John Mayes, 56, according to NBC affiliate WESH.
At least 20 residents of Pasco County, around 30 miles north of Tampa, had to be evacuated early Friday.
"There is a lot of flooding, a lot of trees down but nothing life-threatening," local official Tambrey Laine told NBC News.
Scott earlier urged residents along a stretch of the coast centered on the so-called Big Bend — the elbow where the state's peninsula meets the Panhandle — to secure food and water.
He also told them to make sure they had shelter ahead of the "life-threatening" hurricane — the first for the state since Wilma in 2005.
"You can rebuild a home. You can rebuild property," Scott said. "You cannot rebuild a life."
The National Weather Service said Hermine was expected to produce rainfall from 5 to 10 inches over much of northwest Florida and southern Georgia through Friday — with possible localized deluges of 20 inches.
A combination of a dangerous storm surge and rising tides will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded, it added.
The NWS warned of "life-threatening inundation within the next 12 to 24 hours" along the Gulf Coast from Indian Pass to Longboat Key.
It added that a storm surge of 6 to 9 feet was possible from the Ochlockonee River to Yankeetown.
Storm surges in Taylor County along thes Gulf Coast reached 9 feet, Scott said.
"Significant" wind damage to trees would continue into the morning in northern Florida and southern Georgia, according to NBC News meteorologist Bill Karins.
Tornadoes were also a threat along coastal areas of the Southeast over the next 36 hours, although tornado watches were canceled in Florida on Friday morning.
"Flash flooding and river flooding will be the biggest story over the next 48 hours" in eastern Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, Karins added.
As Hermine approached North Carolina on Friday morning, Gov. Pat McCrory declared a state of emergency in 33 counties.
A tropical storm watch was also extended from Sandy Hook, New Jersey, to west of Watch Hill, Rhode Island, including Long Island and New York City. Coastal areas could feel the effects of the storm Saturday and Sunday, meteorologists said.
New York City already announced beaches would be closed Sunday and likely through Labor Day — putting a damper on plans for the holiday weekend.
In hard hit Tallahassee, Florida, which hadn't seen a hurricane in 30 years, utilities scrambled to repair power lines felled by fallen trees and tree limbs as the storm approached land.
Some 70,000 customers in the capital city of around 181,000 had no power early Friday.
"There are reports of downed power lines and trees throughout the city," said city spokeswoman Alison Faris. "Once the winds subside and it's safe, crews will begin assessing the damage and mobilize response and recovery efforts."
She added: "Power restoration could take a number of days."
Tallahassee resident Amy Parks was trying to sleep late Thursday when a tree came crashing onto her home in the Meyers Park neighborhood. It left a 10-foot by 10-foot hole in her living room roof, and allowed at least 3 inches of rain to pool inside.
"I kept hearing loud crashes on the roof like branches or something like that, but then I heard a huge thump," she said, "and then I heard my children and some of the adults screaming."
Parks' husband was hit in the head by drywall while pushing one of their children away from the area where the tree fell.
"We have six kids sleeping on two mattresses in the hallways right now and we have been putting down pillows, couch cushions, anything we can find to keep the water from getting to them and keep them safe," she added.
Parks said her neighborhood has been left damaged.
"There's two big trees in the road blocking us, all our power lines are down," she
Close to 108,000 customers were without power elsewhere in the state. In Georgia, over 83,000 customers were cut off.
Gov. Scott put 51 counties under a state of emergency and ordered all state offices as well as schools in 35 counties and state parks in 31 counties closed Friday.
Hermine was likely to travel up the coast — perhaps as far as Boston by Monday.
"We've got to watch this thing all the way through the holiday weekend and possibly through much of next week," The Weather Channel's Kevin Roth warned.
The storm — which some forecasters were predicting could pause off of New Jersey early next week — would be more dangerous the closer it was to the coast, he added.
Updated three-day forecasts projected a line of heavy rain — as much as 10 inches — stretching from the Gulf coast of northern Florida to southern Georgia all the way through to Delaware's Atlantic coast by Sunday night.