Downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, Irma flooded several northern Florida cities with heavy rain and high storm surge on Monday as it headed out of the state after cutting power to millions and ripping roofs off homes.
Irma, once ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, hit a wide swath of Florida over the past day, first making landfall on the Florida Keys archipelago and then coming ashore south of Naples and heading up the west coast.
Irma, now a tropical storm with sustained winds of up to 110km per hour, was located about 56km west of Gainesville and headed up the Gulf Coast, 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 11-metre waves over the weekend. This raised the overall death toll from Irma’s powerful rampage through the Caribbean to 38.
The sheriff’s office in Jacksonville, on Florida’s northeast coast, reported that it was making a rescue from waist-deep water on Monday morning and urged people to stay off unsafe roads. The National Weather Service issued a flash flood warning for the city, with nearby St Augustine also seeing flooding.
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 teleconference.
The state’s largest city, Miami, was spared the brunt of the storm but was still battered. Utility crews were already on the streets there clearing downed trees and utility 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, the hurricane centre said.
The storm did some $20bn to $40bn in damage to insured property as it tore through Florida, catastrophe modelling firm AIR Worldwide estimated.
High winds snapped power lines and left about 5.8 million Florida homes and businesses without power, state data showed.
Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday. According to the FlightAware.com tracking site, a total of 3,582 US flights were cancelled on Monday, mostly as a result of the storm.
Irma was forecast to cross the eastern Florida Panhandle and move into southern Georgia later in the day, dumping as much as 41cm of rain, government forecasters said.
Police in Miami-Dade County said they had made 29 arrests for looting and burglary.