Sand covers Ft Lauderdale Beach Boulevard after Hurricane Irma blew though Ft Lauderdale, Florida, US, on September 10 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Sand covers Ft Lauderdale Beach Boulevard after Hurricane Irma blew though Ft Lauderdale, Florida, US, on September 10 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Florida allowed some residents to return on Tuesday to areas hammered by Hurricane Irma’s high winds and storm surge, while the death toll rose in the second major hurricane to hit the US in 2017.

Irma, which rampaged through the Caribbean islands,, was downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday. At its peak, it prompted evacuation orders for 6.5-million people in Florida, the largest evacuation in modern US history. Latest figures put the death toll at 40 in the Caribbean and six in Florida and Georgia.

A Florida official said there had been more deaths yet to be reported, particularly on the Florida Keys, where Irma arrived as a category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 215km/h on Sunday.

Local authorities told 90,000 residents of Miami Beach and from some parts of the Keys they could go home, but warned it might not be prudent to remain there.

"This is going to be a frustrating event. It’s going to take some time to let people back into their homes particularly in the Florida Keys," said Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Rescuers were continuing to assist people stranded by flooding around Jacksonville, in the state’s northeast, Long said.

Irma devastated several Caribbean islands, destroying about one-third of the buildings on the Dutch-ruled portion of St Martin island, the Dutch Red Cross said.

The storm was the second hurricane to make landfall in the US in a little more than two weeks, when it roared over Key Cudjoe. Hurricane Harvey hit Houston late in August, killing 60 people and wreaking $180bn in damage.

Monroe County commissioner Heather Carruthers said that people had been killed in the Keys, which have 80,000 permanent residents, but she did not have a count on how many.

Several major airports in Florida that halted passenger operations due to the storm began limited service on Tuesday, including Miami International, one of the busiest airports in the US.

Miami Beach would allow residents to return home, its mayor said. Monroe County opened road access for residents and business owners from Key Largo, the main island at the upper end of the chain, as well as the towns of Tavernier and Islamorada farther to the south, fire officials said.

No timetable was given for reopening the remainder of the Keys, which are linked by a series of causeways and bridges down to Key West, a popular tourist spot on the southern tip of Florida.

Utilities reported 6.9-million homes and businesses were without electricity in Florida and neighbouring states and said that it could take weeks to fully restore service.


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