Hurricane Irma hit Florida with brutal force. After making landfall on Sunday, the huge storm remained a Category 1 hurricane as it moved over the state’s northwest Monday, before finally being downgraded to a tropical storm at 8 a.m. ET. In large swaths of Florida, Irma has brought dangerous floodwaters, knocking out power and turning human possessions into debris.
Irma has maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and gusts of more than 90 mph. At 8 a.m. ET, Irma was about 105 miles north-northwest of Tampa — one of several areas where storm surge warnings remain in effect. Flash flood warnings have been issued in Jacksonville — a victim, like other eastern Florida areas, of the heaviest rains that are commonly found in hurricanes’ northeast quarter.
Nearly 6 million electricity accounts in Florida are currently without power, according to the office of Gov. Rick Scott. While the full extent of Irma’s damage isn’t yet known, the storm has weakened at a faster rate than expected.
7:24am EST Monday— There is not a single airplane over the state of Florida. pic.twitter.com/fWGwU5VkFP— Sam Sweeney (@SweeneyABC) September 11, 2017
Irma was a hurricane for part of 12 days, having been dubbed a hurricane on Aug. 31, when it was far from land in the Atlantic Ocean. For days, it was a Category 5 storm, wreaking havoc in the Caribbean, where recovery efforts are still under way.
On Monday morning, the storm brought storm surge risks as high as 4 to 6 feet above normal water levels in parts of Florida. Irma was also extending hurricane-force winds outward up to 60 miles from its center and tropical-storm-force winds outward for up to 415 miles, the National Hurricane Center says.
The perilous storm and the massive evacuation it sparked were reflected in an unusual scene in Florida early Monday, when the state’s skies were empty of airliners. A screenshot taken by journalist Sam Sweeney shows, as he wrote, “not a single airplane over the state of Florida.”
Irma is moving north-northwest at nearly 18 mph — a motion that’s expected to continue through Tuesday. The storm’s center is forecast to move near the Florida Peninsula’s northwestern coast and cross the eastern Florida Panhandle into southern Georgia Monday afternoon. It will then move through southwestern Georgia and eastern Alabama through the night and into Tuesday.
When it arrived in Florida, Irma as more than 400 miles wide; the storm remains huge. Consider that when it made landfall at the bottom of Florida’s peninsula on Sunday, Irma’s thick bands of rain were already drenching parts of northern Florida and southern Georgia.
Hurricane Irma made landfall twice in Florida Sunday, smacking into the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm before moving over water and hitting Marco Island as a Category 3 on Florida’s southwest coast.
As the sun rose Monday, many Floridians anxiously awaited their first chance to assess the damage wrought by the hurricane, either inspecting their houses and neighborhoods for themselves or contacting those who stayed behind.
People in the hurricane’s path are using a Facebook group to check in and mark themselves as safe, with nearly 400,000 people in the group as of Monday morning, offering peace of mind to loved ones and giving a hint at this storm’s reach.
Members of the group also used it to commiserate, share tips, and vent their feelings about Irma.
As the sun rose Monday, they also shared some of what they’re seeing. A sample, from Benjamin McKinney in Davenport, Fla.:
“Walked around to check out my yard. The neighbor’s screen patio was torn off and is laying in the street. The stop sign on the corner is missing. The neighbor behind us fence is down. We’re missing some pieces from our roof overhang. Our boughanvilla bush was uprooted and pulled our fence out. Nothing too crazy”
In Key West, the far-flung island lost power and phone connections, but some news began to emerge from Key West late Sunday night. Photographer Rob O’Neal relayed an account of damage, highlighted by flooding, and downed trees and utility poles. Some buildings had also lost their rooftops.
“Counted 10-20 utility lines & 20 trees down in Oldtown. Downed trees & tree limbs scattered throughout KW. Counted at least 100 ppl walking around outside after eye wall passed,” O’Neal wrote. [Copyright 2017 NPR]