Weak­ened storm isn’t fin­ished yet

Mil­lions in Florida with­out power, and it could be weeks

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - John Ba­con and Alan Gomez

Mighty, mas­sive Irma fi­nally weak­ened, chain­saws buzzed and 30,000 util­ity work­ers scram­bled to re­store power to bat­tered Florida on Mon­day as the state slowly came back to life amid the dev­as­ta­tion of the his­toric storm.

Irma, which smashed onto the state Sun­day as a Cat­e­gory 4 hur­ri­cane with 130-mph winds, weak­ened to a trop­i­cal storm Mon­day af­ter ham­mer­ing the state with roof-rip­ping winds and driv­ing rain.

The sun peeked out over much of the state, but Irma wasn’t fin­ished. Gush­ing flood­wa­ters par­a­lyzed wide ar­eas. Downed trees, power lines and other de­bris blocked roads across the state.

Florida’s Emer­gency Re­sponse Team said 65% of util­ity cus­tomers were with­out power early Mon­day. Every county from Key West to the Ge­or­gia line was af­fected. White House na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser Tom Bossert urged evac­uees not to go home un­til they were told it is safe to do so.

“We can have power down in homes for ... weeks,” Bossert said. “This isn’t over yet.”

Gov. Rick Scott warned that storm surge was caus­ing record flood­ing in Jack­sonville and other cities in north­east­ern Florida. Jack­sonville Mayor Lenny Curry asked res­i­dents who are safe to let friends and fam­ily mem­bers know.

“We are get­ting calls ask­ing about loved ones,” Curry tweeted.

The Florida Keys took a beat­ing. Irma ripped through the is­land chain hours be­fore its sec­ond land­fall Sun­day on Marco Is­land. Mil­lions evac­u­ated ahead of the storm, and more than 585 shel­ters across the state were hous­ing more than 200,000 peo­ple Mon­day.

Four “last re­sort” shel­ters set up in the Keys will be­come more per­ma­nent, with ser­vices such as food and sup­ply distri­bu­tion. Scott flew over the area and said flood dam­age was ex­ten­sive. Wa­ter and sewer sys­tems weren’t work­ing, and there was no power.

In Ever­glades City, on the Gulf Coast 30 miles east of Marco Is­land, trees were top­pled and storm fronts blown out. Parts of the city were un­der­wa­ter af­ter a storm surge as

“I’ve never seen it this bad. But it could have been way worse.”

Lee Kid­der, man­ager of the Cap­tain’s Ta­ble ho­tel and restau­rant in Ever­glades City

high as 8 feet.

“I’ve never seen it this bad,” said Lee Kid­der, man­ager of the Cap­tain’s Ta­ble ho­tel and restau­rant, where wa­ter swamped his down­stairs apart­ments and trees smashed the pool pa­tio. “But it could have been way worse.”

Naples, 15 miles north of Marco Is­land, fared bet­ter. Crews saw no ma­jor dam­age and only min­i­mal flood­ing in their ini­tial tours, Mayor Bill Bar­nett said.

“Ev­ery­thing is preliminary, but the real bright side — if there is one — is we didn’t get 15 feet of storm surge,” Bar­nett said. “That would have been cat­a­strophic.”

Util­i­ties warned it could take weeks to fully re­store elec­tric­ity to the state’s 21 mil­lion peo­ple. The Florida High­way Pa­trol was es­cort­ing util­ity con­voys around the state, and more than 30,000 util­ity work­ers were on duty.

Irma was fore­cast to con­tinue to weaken as it rolled through Ge­or­gia and be­yond Tues­day. The state was re­port­ing power out­ages for al­most 600,000 homes and busi­nesses Mon­day; South Carolina had al­most 100,000 out­ages.

Still, many ar­eas were ex­pect­ing worse than they got.

Mi­ami-Dade County, spared a direct hit when Irma spun west, still was stag­gered. About 80% of homes lost power and many roads re­mained im­pass­able, but life­long res­i­dents who know what hur­ri­canes can do knew they’d been spared.

Said Alex Silva, 41, who was us­ing a ma­chete and a rake to clear the street out­side his Co­ral Gables home: “This is great for us but bad for the west coast.”

Irma was ex­pected to con­tinue to weaken as it rolled through Ge­or­gia and be­yond Tues­day.

DOROTHY ED­WARDS, USA TODAY NET­WORK

Leti­cia Ma­gana cleans out her trailer with her son Luis Ladrilleros on Mon­day, the morn­ing af­ter Hur­ri­cane Irma and its winds of up to 130 mph ripped off her roof in Immokalee, Fla.

JACK GRU­BER, USA TODAY

Res­i­dents worked to clear trees and de­bris clos­ing off neigh­bor­hoods in Co­ral Gables, south­west of Mi­ami.

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