Irma Weakens To Tropical Depression As Storm Buffets Georgia

Sep 11, 2017
Originally published on September 12, 2017 4:33 am

Updated at 11:50 p.m. ET

Irma, once a powerful and longrunning hurricane, weakened to a tropical depression as it moved through Georgia on its way to Alabama. It continues to dump heavy rain but all surge warnings have been canceled.

Irma has left behind dangerous floodwaters, power outages for millions of people and the debris it has made of human possessions across Florida.

The huge storm remained a Category 1 hurricane through early Monday, before finally being downgraded to a tropical storm and then a tropical depression.

Electric companies report more than 1.4 million customers in Georgia are without power.

At least three people have died in Florida from causes related to Irma, NPR has confirmed: two law enforcement officers, Hardee County deputy Julie Bridges and Department of Corrections Sgt. Joseph Ossman, as well as one unidentified individual in Miami-Dade County. NPR has confirmed two deaths in Georgia.

Overall, The Associated Press is reporting more than 40 people have died from Irma's effects.

More than 6.2 million homes and businesses in Florida are currently without power, state officials say.

As the sun rose Monday, many Floridians anxiously began to assess the damage wrought by the hurricane, either inspecting their houses and neighborhoods for themselves or contacting those who stayed behind.

For those caught in Irma's path — and wondering what to do after it passes — member station WLRN in Miami has assembled a guide to help.

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 underway.

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 tropical-storm-force winds outward up 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."

By mid-afternoon Monday, more than 14,000 flights to or from the Caribbean and Florida had been cancelled, according to Flight Aware.

Hurricane Jose, which had shadowed part of Irma's route toward the Leeward Islands, has stalled well east of the Bahamas, as of 11 p.m. ET.

When it arrived in Florida, Irma was more than 400 miles wide. 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 on 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.

All told, Moody's Analytics estimates the economic cost of Irma could reach as high as $92 billion.

Here are some of the stories we're seeing in Florida:

Florida Keys

From a flyover aboard a Coast Guard C-130 airplane, NPR's Connor Donevan saw extensive damage to the Keys, particularly in Marathon Island. Houses were wrecked, roofs ripped off. Mobile home parks in particular were devastated, with trailers flipped over and tossed around. Boats were capsized, and many had broken free of their moorings and been thrown ashore. A few cars were driving on the streets, including a solitary vehicle travelling west from Marathon along the Seven Mile Bridge.

In a driving tour of the area surrounding Naval Air Station Key West, Connor saw many roads remained blocked by trees and downed power lines. Less-sturdy buildings had lost roofs or had doors blown in. At a gas station, the canopy and pumps were crumpled into a heap.

Key West was still without power, water and cell service. But there were a number of civilians driving and walking around the island, which is under a sundown-to-sunup curfew.

Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, whose district includes the Keys, said, "It's clear that there's a lot of work to be done and this community's going to need a lot of support. There's some logistical challenges with getting goods and services down to the Florida Keys." Earlier he had called for a "robust" funding plan for FEMA and said congress can't fund FEMA "month-to-month."

Thousands of people are believed to have resisted mandatory evacuation orders to stay in the Keys.

Jacksonville

The city has seen bad flooding, as the St. Johns River overflowed its banks — and Mayor Lenny Curry said he sees recovering from the flooding as "probably a weeklong event."

The sheriff's office reported Monday evening that the number of customers without power is down to 177,652.

Online

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 Davenport, in central Florida, where Benjamin McKinney wrote:

"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."

Tampa

As the storm approached, it sucked water out of Tampa Bay and other areas, prompting curious residents to head out onto the muddy ground — and, in at least one case, to rescue stranded manatees.

But damage to the city was minimal, according to a relieved Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who the Associated Press quoted as saying Monday "became a good day."

Orlando

From member station WMFE:

"Florida Highway Patrol said they're seeing too many people out 'sightseeing' and not obeying the curfew. FHP reports trees are down and there's standing water from the exit ramps at 528 to 520. Those ramps have been closed in both directions...
"FHP says traffic's starting to build up on 95 and the Turnpike southbound. They expect traffic to pick up as the day goes on and people want to go home and check out their property. Officials say people can't enter the Keys, so evacuees need to stay put."

Miami

The city is focusing on clearing roads of debris trees, and sand — in some areas, parts of the beach have been pushed over roadways. Mayor Tomás Regalado said 72 percent of the city of Miami is currently without power, NPR's Hansi Lo Wang reports. Police report at least 26 looting incidents, with 13 arrests made.

"At one time, Miami was dead in the center of the track, and could have been hit very hard," NPR's Jon Hamilton says on Morning Edition. But today, Jon says, much of the city looks "surprisingly normal" — at least out toward the airport.

"I have seen a whole lot of power trucks going by on the freeway out here," Jon adds. "There's still water on the ground in places, they're picking up lots of palm fronds, but the city looks like it's getting back in business."

Miami International Airport saw wind gusts near 100 mph and "sustained significant water damage throughout," the airport director, Emilio Gonzalez, said via Twitter. The facility is closed to passenger flights at least through Monday.

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