Weakened storm isn’t finished yet
Millions in Florida without power, and it could be weeks
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.
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.
Residents worked to clear trees and debris closing off neighborhoods in Coral Gables, southwest of Miami.