Hurricane Irma

Florida wakes up to assess damage as Hurricane Irma weakens and moves onto Georgia

Irma is moving towards Georgia and is expected to dump heavy rains over the coming day

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 4:04am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 June, 2018, 3:32am

Downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, Irma left several northern Florida cities flooded and continued to batter them with heavy rain and high storm surges on Monday.

Once ranked one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, Irma hit vast sections of Florida through Sunday and into Monday. It first made landfall on the Florida Keys archipelago as a category 4 storm with winds up to 215km/h and then coming ashore south of Naples and heading up the west coast.

Weakening to tropical storm with sustained winds of up to 110km/h at 8am on Monday, Irma had moved to about 56km west of Gainesville and was headed up the coast, the National Hurricane Centre said.

As Irma travelled through the centre of the state, it brought wind gusts of up to 160km/h and torrential rain to areas around Orlando, the National Weather Service said. Much of the state’s east and west coasts, plus Georgia and parts of South Carolina were still vulnerable to storm surges and forecast to receive up to 41cm of rain as it passed over.

Authorities kept storm warnings in effect across vast swathes of the Florida peninsular, where more than six million people had been ordered to flee – one of the biggest evacuations in US history.

“As little as six inches of moving water can knock you down,” tweeted the state’s governor Rick Scott following the storm’s downgrade.

“Stay inside. Stay safe.”

As day broke in the US on Monday, and officials and residents began to assess the damage, Scott said he would travel to the Florida Keys where the eye of the storm hit.

“I’ve heard there’s some significant damage, right where the eye of the storm hit,” Scott told NBC. “We’ll find out.”

Florida’s governor activated all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 10,000 guardsmen from elsewhere were being deployed.

Monroe County Emergency Director Martin Senterfitt said a large military relief operation was being prepared to help the Florida Keys.

Though the full extent of Irma’s wrath remained unclear, catastrophe modelling firm AIR Worldwide estimated it had caused US$20 billion to US$40 billion in damage to insured properties in Florida alone. High winds snapped power lines and left about 5.8 million Florida homes and businesses without power, state data showed.

Watch: Irma floods Miami, destroys homes in Palm Bay

The state’s largest city, Miami, was spared the brunt of the storm but was still battered. Blocks of flats swayed in the high winds on Sunday, three construction cranes were toppled, and streets were flooded. Miami-Dade County police said they arrested 29 people for looting and burglary.

At least 34 people were reportedly killed across the region, including three in the Florida Keys, 10 in Cuba – whose northern coast was raked by the storm – and dozens more across the Caribbean as the storm made its way towards Florida.

Britain has sent a navy ship and almost 500 troops to help people on the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos islands that were pummelled by the hurricane.

The US government said it was sending aircraft to evacuate citizens from one of the hardest hit islands, St Martin. A Royal Caribbean Cruise Line ship was also expected to dock near St Martin to help in the aftermath.

A French military ship was expected to arrive on Tuesday with materials to build temporary housing. French President Emmanuel Macron Macron promised to go to the region as soon as weather conditions allowed.

Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press