Irma weakens but 6.2m without power in Florida

MIAMI: Monster storm Irma, which ripped a deadly path through the Caribbean, started to weaken on Monday though it was still whipping parts of Florida with fearsome winds and rain, leaving 6.2 million people without power.
The death toll jumped to at least 40 as Cuba said 10 people had been killed there over the weekend as the storm carved a path northward. The Cuban victims died from causes ranging from electrocution to drowning, building collapse and a balcony falling on a bus, authorities there said.
Meanwhile, Florida residents in the storm’s wake who spent an anxious night huddled indoors began to venture out to survey the damage, which largely did not seem to be as bad as initially feared.
Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm early on Monday as it spun northward through Florida, but forecasters warned of hazardous storm surges and “some wind gusts to near hurricane force.”
Maximum sustained winds had decreased to 110 kilometres per hour as of 8:00 am (1200 GMT). Irma was about 170 kilometres northwest of Tampa on Florida’s west coast, and expected to cross into Georgia on Monday afternoon.
Authorities in Jacksonville, in northeast Florida, declared a flash flood emergency, as dangerous storm surge overwhelmed parts of downtown and other areas.
Warnings of storm surges remained in place in several areas of south and central Florida, including the heavily populated Tampa Bay region.
“As little as six inches of moving water can knock you down,” tweeted the state’s governor Rick Scott.
“Stay inside. Stay safe,” he added. “The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded.”
Irma had triggered orders for more than six million people in the United States to flee to safety, one of the biggest evacuations in the country’s history.
The storm roared ashore on the Florida Keys island chain on Sunday as a powerful Category Four hurricane, ripping boats from their moorings, flattening palm trees and downing power lines, after devastating a string of Caribbean islands.
As of Monday morning, 6.2 million customers were without power in Florida, according to the state’s Department of Emergency Management. Florida Power and Light said it had “safely shut down” one of two nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point power plant.
In flood-prone Miami, the largest US city in Irma’s path, cleaning crews began clearing branches, debris and fallen street signs from downtown and the Brickell financial district at dawn on Monday. Though Irma’s approach caused two construction cranes to collapse, the city appeared to be spared from major damage. The sea had swallowed the coastal walkway of glitzy Brickell Avenue in the centre of Miami on Sunday, flooding the streets and leaving cars half-submerged.
By Monday morning, most Miami streets were drying up, though they were covered with debris.
“If this had been a Category Four hurricane, the whole scenario would have been completely different. We wouldn’t have power for weeks, and we just got the power restored this morning,” said resident Bob Lutz, 62, who had ignored evacuation orders and holed up with a week’s worth of food and water.
“If we had evacuated, we maybe had evacuated to Tampa or Naples, which would have been right into the storm.”
President Donald Trump, who promised to travel to Florida “very soon,” approved the state’s request for emergency federal aid to help with temporary housing, home repairs, emergency work and hazard mitigation. — AFP

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