1 of 7 | A person walks next to debris in the town of Perry, after Hurricane Idalia made landfall Wednesday near Keaton Beach, Fla. The deadly Category 4 storm, with winds of 125 mph, has now weakened to a tropical storm as it moves across the Carolinas. Photo by Cristobal Herrera-Ulashkevich/EPA-EFE
Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Hurricane Idalia weakened Wednesday from a Category 4 hurricane to a tropical storm, and is blamed for at least two deaths in Florida and another in Georgia.
Sustained winds blew as strong as 125 mph with heavy rain and flooding that damaged much of the Big Bend region of Florida, where Idalia made landfall earlier Wednesday.
Tropical storm warnings remain in effect for Northeast Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina through Wednesday night.
In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp warned residents to "stay safe as the storm moves through" and vowed that state officials are working around the clock to help those affected by Idalia.
Georgia could see extreme flooding as the storm collides with a full "blue moon" Wednesday night that could raise tides above normal. The storm is expected to weaken when it reaches Savannah.
North of Georgia, emergency officials in South Carolina are warning residents to remain indoors for the next 24 hours, NBC News reported.
South Carolina is bracing for flooding and the possibility of tornadoes across much of the state, with a tornado warning in Charleston. High tide combined with the storm surge is expected to flood streets in some towns that are still recovering from last year's Hurricane Ian.
"We're about to start receiving tropical storm force winds within the county," Joe Coates, the Charleston County emergency management director, told NBC News.
The storm surge is expected to mix with the seasonal and already high "King Tides" to cause tides to rise to 8.3 feet, Coates added.
Despite warnings of flooding and the possibility of tornadoes, some residents and visitors to Charleston are riding out the storm at bars and restaurants which have vowed to stay open for "people, plants and pets" until "the lights go out."
North Carolina's governor urged residents Wednesday to "just batten down the hatches for a little while," as tropical storm warnings remain in effect for the coast for the next few days.
"We expect winds, rain and flooding to continue to impact our state even into Saturday," Gov. Roy Cooper told reporters Wednesday. "I encourage people to listen to local officials and make sure you have a plan if you're in an area with a flood risk."
Earlier Wednesday, Biden spoke to the governors of Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina about preparations and damage from Hurricane Idalia.
"I spoke with Gov. [Ron] DeSantis several times," Biden said, adding that he also spoke with governors Brian Kemp of Georgia, Roy Cooper of North Carolina and Henry McMaster of South Carolina.
"I don't think anyone can deny the impact of the climate crisis anymore. Just look around. Historic floods," Biden said in a speech, which also addressed the devastation from wildfires in Hawaii.
"I mean, historic floods, more intense droughts, extreme heat, significant wildfires that cause significant damage like we've never seen before, not only through the Hawaiian Islands but in Canada and other parts of the world."
Biden said that, though the storm had downgraded to a Category 1 and eventually a tropical storm, he called it "very dangerous" weather system.
"The impacts of the storm are being felt throughout the southeast, even as it moves up the eastern coast of the United States," he said. "We have to remain vigilant."
Biden said he met with Deanne Criswell, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, in the Oval Office.
The president said that he approved an early request from DeSantis for federal assistance on Monday before the hurricane even made landfall.
At least 1,500 emergency personnel and 900 Coast Guard personnel were directed to aid Florida and the southeast, Biden said.
At least three people have died in weather-related accidents in Florida and Georgia as Hurricane Idalia battered both states Wednesday, officials said.
In Georgia, one person died and a second was seriously injured when a tree fell Wednesday afternoon in Lowndes County, the Valdosta Daily Times reported. The two were cutting up a fallen tree blocking a road when a second tree fell, according to Lowndes County Sheriff Ashley Paulk.
In Florida, an unidentified man from Gainesville was driving his Toyota pickup truck around 6 a.m. when he swerved and veered into a ditch, according to a crash report obtained by CNN. He was 59.
The second incident, which occurred about 15 minutes later, involved a 40-year-old man from Spring Hill who was driving a pickup truck down St. Joe Road in Pasco County at a speed "too fast for conditions."
Hurricane Idalia blew into Florida's Big Bend region Wednesday morning as a powerful Category 3 storm, with the higher populated areas of Tallahassee and Tampa missing the worst of it.
Still, Casey DeSantis, the wife of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, said in a statement that a 100-year-old oak tree fell onto the governor's mansion in Tallahassee while she and their three children were home.
"A difference of 35 to 40 miles made all the difference between hurricane-force winds and significant damage in Leon County and what we're experiencing today," Kelly Godsey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the Tallahassee Democrat.
Leon County Emergency Management reported that 16 structures were damaged by Idalia and 46 roads were blocked by fallen trees.
"We absolutely received an impact," Kevin Peters, the county's director of Emergency Management, told reporters. "And we were affected by a tremendous storm, one of the most tremendous storms to affect the Apalachee Bay."
Jacksonville's Memorial Park suffered damage to its concrete balusters from strong waves crashing onto them.
Florida's Port Canaveral shut-down Tuesday night due to high winds.
"Port Canaveral is closed, and has ceased all waterside and vessel shoreside port operations until further notice," the port said in a statement. The port, which had no cruise ships scheduled Wednesday, hopes to reopen Thursday.
Power outages were widespread with 190,985 customers in the state of Florida still without power Wednesday evening, according to the tracker Poweroutage.us. after high winds of up to 85 mph toppled trees and downed power lines. Utility crews in Tallahassee are still working to restore power, as city official promised to "substantially complete" power restoration by Thursday.
Also, parts of the major I-75 interstate highway were closed due to downed power lines, further complicating travel in parts of the state.
The eye of Idalia crossed Keaton Beach, Fla. just before 8 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, bringing with it winds and rain not seen in the area for at least a decade.
The storm reached Category 4 status with winds up to 131 mph before hitting land, but weakened slightly to land officially as a Category 3.
Even with that, Idalia pummeled that area and a large swath of Florida's west coast with torrential rain, flooding and widespread power outages.
In a news conference, DeSantis had said forecasters were predicting that the storm surge would reach about 16 feet in affected areas. He urged residents to take extra precautions.
Meteorologists said Idalia's powerful storm surge could extend some 200 miles along Florida's west coast, well beyond the eye of the storm.
"Do not go outside in the midst of this storm," DeSantis warned earlier.
"If it's calm where you are, maybe because you're in the eye of this storm. Those conditions will change very, very quickly. Wherever you are, hunker down and don't take anything for granted."
DeSantis, who saw his power lost briefly during his news conference in Tallahassee, said the meteorologists had issued 11 tornado warnings and those will likely continue throughout Wednesday connected with the outer bands of the storm.
"As the storm passes, do not drive through flooded streets, and assume that all downed power lines are still hot and live," the governor said. "We have a lot of people trying to remedy that, but that is very hazardous in the immediate aftermath of the storm."
Storm surge spilled Tampa Bay into the region's most populous areas of Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, flooding streets and spurring rescues performed by emergency crews even before Idalia made landfall.
Forecasters predicted the Tampa Bay area to receive 3 to 5 inches of rain.
Idalia was connected to flight cancelations and delays around the country with 790 flights into, or out of the United States canceled and 523 delayed.