Downgraded Irma floods Florida
Power cuts leave millions in the dark and roofs ripped off homes as downgraded hurricane batters the US’s sunshine state
Downgraded to a tropical storm, Hurricane Irma flooded northern Florida cities with heavy rain and a high storm surge on Monday as it headed out of the state after cutting power to millions and ripping roofs off homes.
Irma, initially ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, hit a wide swathe of Florida, first making landfall on the Florida Keys archipelago and coming ashore south of Naples and heading up the west coast.
Now a tropical storm with winds of up to 110km/h, Irma headed up the Gulf Coast on Monday afternoon, the National Hurricane Centre said.
The Cuban government reported on Monday that 10 people had been killed after Irma battered the island’s north coast with ferocious winds and 11m waves at the weekend. This raised the overall death toll from Irma’s rampage through the Caribbean to 38.
The sheriff’s office in Jacksonville on Florida’s northeast coast reported that it was making a rescue in waist-deep water on Monday. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the city.
"Stay inside. Go up. Not out," Jacksonville’s website warned residents. "There is flooding throughout the city and more rain is expected."
After what she called a terrifying night bunkered with her family in her house in St Petersburg, on Florida’s Gulf Coast, Julie Hally emerged with relief on Monday. The winds had toppled trees and part of a fence, but her house was undamaged.
"My heart just pounded out of my chest the whole time," said Hally, 37. "You hear stuff hitting your roof. It’s really scary."
As officials and residents began to assess the damage around the state, governor Rick Scott said he would travel to the Keys.
Irma first came ashore at Cudjoe Key as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 215km/h.
"I’ve heard there’s some significant damage, right where the eye of the storm hit," Scott said. "We’ll find out."
A large military airborne relief operation was being prepared to take help to the islands, which are linked by a dramatic series of bridges and causeways from Key Largo almost 160km southwest to the city of Key West, Monroe County emergency director Martin Senterfitt told a news conference.
Miami, the state’s largest city, was spared the brunt of the storm but was still battered. Emergency workers were already on the streets clearing downed trees and power lines. All causeways leading to Miami Beach were closed by police.
Much of the state’s east and west coasts remained vulnerable on Monday to storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels. That risk extended to the coast of Georgia and parts of South Carolina.
As it travelled through the centre of the state early on Monday, Irma brought gusts of up to 160km/h and torrential rain to areas around Orlando, one of the most popular areas for tourism in Florida because of its cluster of theme parks, the National Weather Service said.
In Daytona Beach, on the east coast about 90km northeast of Orlando, city streets were flooded and emergency crews carried out several water rescues, the Daytona Beach police department said.
Irma claimed its first US fatality, a man found dead in a truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds in the town of Marathon, in the Florida Keys, local officials said.
During its passage through the Caribbean, Irma was ranked at the rare top end of the scale of hurricane intensity, a category 5. The hurricane carried maximum sustained winds of up to 295km/h when it crashed into the island of Barbuda on Wednesday.