Hurricane Irma: Florida braced for storm surges after it hits Miami and Tampa – latest news

6.2 million without power as Hurricane Irma tracks coastStorm kills at least four in Florida after 38 dead in Caribbean10,000 could have stayed in Keys to ride out hurricaneHurricane weakens to tropical storm, but surge threat remains

Large parts of Florida remain at risk from potentially life-threatening storm surges after Hurricane Irma tore a devastating path through the state, with roof-ripping winds and gushing floodwaters leaving millions without power.

The “monster” hurricane measuring more than 400 miles wide was downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday afternoon – with its maximum winds decreasing to around 70mph – as it moved over Florida towards southern Georgia.

As Irma carved north through the state after battering Miami, Tampa and other urban areas, the full extent of its destructive march remained unclear as many communication lines had been cut.

There was some relief in Miami that the city was spared the flooding which devastated Houston with the city’s better drainage system better able to cope with the volume of water.

Watch live: Real-time satellite view of hurricane’s path

Warnings of hazardous storm surges remain in effect through vast swaths of the state from which six million people fled in one of the biggest evacuations in US history.

The storm could still cause widespread storm surge damage – which is when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels – when it hits north Florida, southern Georgia and South Carolina on Monday afternoon and evening.

“As little as six inches of moving water can knock you down,” said the state’s governor Rick Scott following the downgrade. “Stay inside. Stay safe.”

Huge numbers of properties in Naples, Florida, are under waterCredit: Brian Emfinger/LSM A petrol station damaged by Hurricane Irma in North Redington Beach, FloridaCredit: Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office/Reuters Two men walk their bicycles along a flooded street on the waterfront of Fort Lauderdale, FloridaCredit: Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press/AP

After wreaking a trail of death and destruction through the Caribbean – killing at least 38 people after 10 were confirmed to have died in Cuba – Irma caused the deaths of four people after striking the southern Florida Keys island chain on Sunday.

As many as 10,000 people are believed to have stayed in their homes in the Florida Keys to ride out the hurricane, officials said, as the local emergency manager warned of a looming “humanitarian crisis”.

An estimated 6.2 million properties remain without power throughout the state, with utility officials estimating it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.

A satellite image from early on Monday shows Hurricane Irma as it moves on the Florida coast, as Tropical Storm Jose (right) moves west in the AtlanticCredit: NASA/Getty

Irma sucked the ocean water out of bays, swamped much of downtown Miami and toppled at least three constructions cranes.

Describing the hurricane as “some big monster”, President Donald Trump approved a major disaster declaration and emergency federal aid for Florida.

The eye of the hurricane went over Tampa Bay – an area home to around three million people that has not suffered such a large hurricane since 1921 – at 2am local time (7am BST) on Monday.

As aerial pictures showing the extent of the damage emerged, Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn said: “What we thought was going to be a punch in the face was a glancing blow.”

Irma is now expected to push into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and beyond. On Monday afternoon, it was about 105 miles north-northwest of Tampa and was moving at around 18 mph.

The US National Hurricane Centre said Irma is expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Tuesday afternoon.

Stay with us for the latest updates throughout the day.

‘We avoided a Houston situation’ – Miami official

Ken Russel, Miami’s city commissioner said while some areas were completely submerged, the city had been spared the level of devastation which befell Houston.

A Miami Fire Rescue truck drives through street flooding on Biscayne Boulevard after Hurricane Irma Credit: Erik Lesser/EPA

“We have a porous oolite limestone and we have very good draining systems. Those roads are already dry, for the most part,” he said.

Don’t underestimate the power of water

The storm may have weakened, but the danger remains according to the US National Weather Service.

Don’t underestimate the power of water. Turn Around Don’t Drown! https://t.co/NifPjd3ZYq#FloodSafety#FallSafetypic.twitter.com/1GNYsVQfuK

— NWS (@NWS) September 11, 2017

It says the big danger is flooding along with tornadoes and water surges in coastal areas.

Airlines sending in flights to bring home holidaymakers

BA is sending three aircraft across the Atlantic to bring stranded holidaymakers home as soon as airports are re-opened. They are being deployed in Bermuda, Baltimore and Boston where they are waiting for further instructions.

With the hurricane still moving through the region, the airline said its schedule remains under review.

Virgin Atlantic said it is resuming services to and from Orlando on Tuesday with five flights. It is sending Boeing 747s, each capable of carrying 450 people.

It will also bring holidaymakers back from Antigua on Tuesday.

The airline hopes to resume services from Havana on Thursday

Residents of Jacksonville Florida told to leave as floodwaters rise

Jacksonville, Florida, authorities are telling residents near the St. Johns river to leave quickly as floodwaters rise.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office warned people in evacuation zones A and B along the St. Johns River to “Get out NOW.”

They say river is at historic flood levels and likely to get worse at high tide around 2 p.m.

On its Facebook page, the sheriff’s office told those who need help evacuating to “put a white flag in front of your house. A t-shirt, anything white.”

Urban Flood Water Rescue Team 2, with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, makes its way along San Marco Boulevard Credit: Will Dickey/AP

Woman hit by washing machine as Irma battered Tortola

A resident of an island destroyed by Hurricane Irma has told how she was struck by a washing machine as her house was battered by the storm.

Sarah Penney, a UK citizen who was born and raised on Tortola, said the washer-dryer could have taken her with it as it was lifted off the ground.

The 33-year-old was saved by her friend, who managed to push the appliance away and into the direction of the wind.

She said: “I sincerely would not be alive, I would not have survived Hurricane Irma, had he not been there.”

Ms Penney was sheltering with her eight-month-old baby, her mother, 70, and friend, Chouby, at home during the storm when the group were forced to retreat to the bathroom.

Along with her friend, she attempted to secure the nursery as an alternative shelter, but they were stopped when high winds pulled the glass from the windows.

The door of the nursery was sucked shut by the pressure, trapping the pair inside, but they managed to escape when the winds dropped for a moment. Ms Penney said:

“The washer and dryer got lifted and thrown towards me when we were trying to get a piece of wood back up on the door.

“It slammed into me, but it would have taken me if Chouby hadn’t been able to be right next to me and just push it so that it got directed into the wind. It’s like we’ve been bombed.

“There isn’t a single leaf on a tree, there’s no trees. I think humans have fared a lot better than animals. It’s going to take a generation to come back from this.

“People’s ‘everything’ is gone, their businesses, their homes, their churches, their schools, are gone.”

But Ms Penney, who helped in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake, has chosen to stay behind to help on the ground and is orchestrating “salvage and supply runs”.

Ms Penney said: “Most of us need to see this place rebuilt as quickly as it can and that really only happens when those of us who have the know-how and the determination and local knowledge, stay on.”

How much will the Florida clean-up cost?

The storm did up to £30billion in damage to insured property as it tore through Florida, catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide has estimated.

Irma hit just days after the Houston area was deluged by unprecedented flooding in Texas from Hurricane Harvey.

Macron defends claims government poorly managed looting on Saint Martin

French president Emmanuel Macron’s government has denied claims it has poorly managed the aftermath of Irma on the island of Saint Martin, amid reports of looting, saying that rescue operations, not security, are its top priority, reports Henry Samuel in Paris.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, leader of the far-Left opposition party France Unbowed, this weekend accused the government of being ill-prepared for the rescue and security operation.

He called for a parliamentary inquiry into whether “they had pre-positioned military and civil forces in sufficient numbers” ahead of the storm’s passage. The government said it is open to such an inquiry.

Eric Ciotti, MP for the opposition conservative Republicans part also accused the government of “failing to anticipate” sending security forces on Saint Martin and the nearby island of Saint-Barthélemy, saying he had been “extremely shocked by images of looting” on French TV news channels.

Hurricane Irma hit the island of Saint-Martin last weekCredit: Reuters/Netherlands Ministry of Defence

Marine Le Pen, head of the far-Right Front National, said the government had abandoned locals to “organise their own self-defence”.

Mr Macron is due to arrive in Saint Martin on Tuesday morning to show support for the island, which is half-administered by the Netherlands.

Annick Girardin, French overseas minister insisted that authorities had been “up to the task”.

“Everyone here has done everything possible,” she insisted. “I chose first rescue operations, then security. Looting has stopped even if there will always be a few thefts.”

A government spokesman said that “more than 1,000 people immediately intervened on site” and Mr Macron has pledged to “double” the number soldiers and policemen to “rapidly reinforce the security of those affected”.

The records broken by Hurricane Irma

Now downgraded, Irma set plenty of records as a hurricane, according to a list compiled by Colorado State University:

its 185 mph winds were the highest on record for the open Atlantic ocean, outside the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean sea. Only one other storm in the entire Atlantic basin – Allen in the 1980s – was strongerit spent three consecutive days as a top-of-the-scale category five hurricane, the longest in the satellite erait generated the second most Accumulated Cyclone Energy – a key measurement that combines strength and duration – in the satellite era. Irma generated about as much as energy as entire normal Atlantic hurricane seasonit was the strongest storm to hit the Leeward Islandsit is the first category five hurricane to hit Cuba, which regularly gets assaulted by hurricanes, in nearly 100 years

Governor visits Florida Keys to assess Irma damage

As officials and residents began to assess the damage around Florida, Governor Rick Scott said he was travelling to the Keys on Monday.

Irma first came ashore at Cudjoe Key as a category four hurricane with sustained winds of up to 130mph.

“I’ve heard there’s some significant damage, right where the eye of the storm hit,” Mr Scott told NBC’s “Today” show. “We’ll find out.”

This morning I’m joining Vice Admiral Schultz and @USCG members to assess damage from Irma in the Florida Keys. pic.twitter.com/HWD2HW19Gj

— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) September 11, 2017

Now a tropical storm, Irma is still producing ‘near-hurricane force’ winds

Despite Irma weakening to a tropical storm as it continues on a northward path through Florida, the National Hurricane Centre said it is still producing “some wind gusts to near hurricane force”.

Early reports of Irma’s aftermath seemed to show that damage in Florida from the massive storm were not as bad as initially feared.

Television footage showed trees down and buildings with exterior damage, though people were able to make their way through muddy or lightly flooded streets.

A fallen tree toppled by Hurricane Irma blocks a street in downtown Miami Credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP Fallen trees on a street in MiamiCredit: CRISTOBAL HERRERA/EPA An overturned car during Hurricane Irma, in Cape Coral, FloridaCredit: Gerald Herbert/AP

10 people killed by Hurricane Irma in Cuba

The Cuban government has revealed that 10 people were killed by Hurricane Irma when it hit the island.

The storm had swamped Havana’s iconic seawall, pushing water nearly a third of a mile inland.

A statement from authorities said the victims died due to various causes such as accidents, collapsed buildings and not heeding orders to evacuate in the four provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Sancti spiritus and Ciego de Avila, where the storm hit hardest.

Widespread Hurricane Irma damage in the Cojimar neighborhood in HavanaCredit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP

It brings the total number of people killing in the Caribbean to 38. At least four people have also died in Florida.

Irma weakens to tropical storm after battering Florida

Irma has weakened to a tropical storm as it moves over Florida towards southern Georgia.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds decreased on Monday morning to nearly 70 mph.

#Irma weakens to a tropical storm with winds near 70 mph as it heads toward the NW coast of the Florida Peninsula pic.twitter.com/EGVidzvRsJ

— Met Office Storms (@metofficestorms) September 11, 2017

The US National Hurricane Centre said it is expected to weaken to a tropical depression by Tuesday afternoon.

Irma is centered about 105 miles north-northwest of Tampa, Florida, and is moving at around 18 mph.

Family saved from car submerged in water in dramatic rescue

Police in the Lakeland area of Florida rescued a family with small children from a car that was submerged in water as Hurricane Irma crossed the area.

Officers said in a Facebook post that officers rescued the family of four early on Monday as water reached the children’s car seats. No one was injured and police were able to get the family back to their home.

“When you become a police officer you hope to make a difference in the lives of others,” the Facebook post said. “Tonight, there is no doubt these officers made a difference.”

Lakeland is between Tampa and Orlando.

Tampa mayor: ‘What we thought was going to be a punch in the face was a glancing blow’

As we begin to see aerial pictures of the trail of destruction in Tampa, mayor Bob Buckhorn has been giving an update of the damage.

He said that while the city has not escaped Hurricane Irma’s wrath, the situation is not as bad as they had feared.

The extent of damage in coastal areas of Florida became clear in daylightCredit: Brian Emfinger/LSM

Speaking on Monday morning on MSNBC, Mr Buckhorn said: “What we thought was going to be a punch in the face was a glancing blow.”

Mr Buckhorn said that there are a lot of downed power lines and debris.

The badly damaged roof of a property in NaplesCredit: Brian Emfinger/LSM

He said Tampa’s officials have vehicles positioned “to be sure that when that surge comes in we can keep people out of the streets”.

He said he expected power to be out for some sections of Tampa for at least several more days.

Reports of looting in flood-hit state

Police in Miami are investigating reports of people looting shops as Hurricane Irma hit the state.

On Sunday night, Miami police took two people into custody and detained two others.

Deputy Police Chief Luis Cabrera told the Miami Herald the officers went to the shops at Midtown on Sunday afternoon as the winds of Hurricane Irma were at their strongest in South Florida.

Mr Cabrera said a group in a white vehicle hit multiple locations. Police have also received additional reports of looting in the city.

Police had issued a curfew Saturday night, partly to ward off looters by giving officers probable cause to stop anyone for being on the street during the storm.

Police sergeant and paramedic trapped in vehicle by power line for two hours

A Florida sheriff’s sergeant and a paramedic were trapped in a vehicle when a live power pole fell on the cruiser as they were returning from dropping off an elderly patient as Hurricane Irma moved over the state.

Polk County spokesman Kevin Watler said in a news release that Sgt Chris Lynn and Polk County Fire Rescue paramedic James Tanner Schaill were trapped for about two hours late Sunday.

Crews from Lakeland Electric crews disconnected the lines at around 1.15am on Monday. Both men have returned to their jobs to continue assisting hurricane recovery efforts.

Irma knock outs power to 5.8m properties in Florida

Hurricane Irma has knocked out power to about 5.8 million homes and businesses in Florida, even as the storm’s power waned as it crept up the state’s west coast, according to state officials and local electric utilities.

At 5am ET (10am BST), Irma was carrying maximum sustained winds of near 75 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Centre said.

Most of the power losses were in Florida, but losses in Georgia, which were at about 90,000, were expected to increase as the storm moved north.

FPL, the biggest power company in Florida, said more than 3.6 million of its customers were without power by 6am (11am BST) on Monday). A total of 4.2 million have been affected, with about 570,000 seeing service restored, mostly by automated devices.

Electrical storm shows Florida power grid hit by Hurricane Irma 00:41

Full restoration of power could take weeks in many areas, FPL said, due to expected damage to the company’s system. FPL is a unit of Florida energy company NextEra Energy Inc.

Other large utilities, including units of Duke Energy Corp , Southern Co and Emera Inc, were seeing their outage figures grow as the storm pushed north.

Duke’s outages jumped to 860,000 overnight; the company said it expected outages could ultimately exceed 1 million. Emera’s Tampa Electric utility reported 300,000 homes and businesses lost power by Monday morning.

How the Miami coastline was battered

While southwest Florida bore the deadly brunt of Irma’s wrath on Sunday, the coastlines of Miami and the neighbouring island of Miami Beach were heavily inundated by storm surges as hurricane winds sent at least two giant construction cranes crashing down.

A boat rack storage facility lays destroyed after Hurricane Irma blew though Hollywood, FloridaCredit: CARLO ALLEGRI A home with severe roof damage after the full effects of Hurricane Irma struck in MiamiCredit: ERIK S. LESSER/EPA A fallen tree after the passage of Hurricane Irma, in MiamiCredit: ALVARO BLANCO/EPA

The sea swallowed the coastal walkway of glitzy Brickell Avenue in the centre of Miami, flooding the streets and leaving cars half-submerged.

“The wooden pier is basically gone,” said Steven Schlacknam, a 51-year-old visual artist watching from a 37th floor apartment.

10,000 could have stayed in Florida Keys to ride out hurricane

Up to 10,000 people could have stayed in their homes in the Florida Keys to ride out Hurricane Irma, officials have warned.

Bryan Koon, Florida’s director of emergency management said these residents are likely to now have no water, food or power. He said it was too early to give an estimate of fatalities or the extent of damage to the region.

Mr Koon said that, based on traffic reports from the Florida Highway Patrol and other estimates, it is believed that about 10,000 people remained in the Keys.

A rough surf surrounds Boynton Beach inlet as Hurricane Irma hit coastal FloridaCredit: Jim Rassol/South Florida Sun-Sentinel

He said it is likely that there is “fairly significant impact to homes” and virtually no communication.

Mr Koon told the Miami Herald : “We don’t have a comprehensive insight into what the damage is. We will work on those at first light. I don’t have any numbers on fatalities at this point.”

‘You need to be afraid of the storm surge!’ Fears for coastal towns

As warnings about storm surges in Florida continue, aerial pictures have emerged of the widespread damage to coastal towns.

“I am concerned about people that don’t believe in the storm surge,” said 76-year-old Naples resident Virginia Defreeuw, who had fled her mobile home in Naples to a shelter.

“You need to be afraid of the storm surge! People are not listening.”

Roofs were torn off buildings in Naples, while streets were under waterCredit: Brian Emfinger/LSM Roads had effectively become rivers in Naples, FloridaCredit: Brian Emfinger/LSM

Life-threatening winds remain in state of Florida – governor

Rick Scott, the Governor of Florida, is today warning that “life-threatening” wind is expecting to continue “through much of the state” in a message to residents on Twitter:

Life threatening wind is expected through much of the state. Stay alert and listen to local weather updates.

— Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) September 11, 2017

Drone footage shows scale of damage in Naples, Florida

This video taken from a drone over Naples, Florida, shows the extent of the damage.

Roads are flooded, homes without roofs and debris is scattered widely in the wake of Hurricane Irma.

How many deaths have been caused by Irma in Florida?

At least four road deaths in Florida are believed to be connected to Hurricane Irma:

One person was killed in a single-car crash in Orange CountyA police officer working at a hurricane shelter in Hardee County was killed driving home when she hit with another vehicle being driven by a colleague who also diedA man died in Monroe County when his truck hit a tree

Manatees rescued by Florida locals after Irma leaves them stranded

A man has told how he helped to rescue two manatees stranded in Florida due to the storm.

Michael Sechler was on a walk because Hurricane Irma was driving him “stir-crazy” when he spotted the animals – sometimes known as sea cows.

A strange phenomenon caused by the hurricane caused water to be sucked out of bays and waterways, while other areas were flooded.

Beached: a stranded manatee was carried back to sea by rescuersCredit: Michael Sechler via AP

Two manatees were left high and dry after the water they were in was drained and they were stranded on now-dry land just north of Sarasota.

Mr Sechler called for help after seeing the manatees as they were too heavy to move back out to deeper water. Click here to read more.

The manatee being rescuedCredit: Marcelo Clavijo/Facebook

Sir Richard Branson shares images of devastation on Necker Island

Sir Richard Branson has shared video and photographs showing the “huge” damage wreaked by Hurricane Irma on Necker Island, as he appealed for aid for the devastated British Virgin Islands.

The British billionaire and adventurer took refuge in the wine cellar of his home on his private island as it suffered a direct hit from the then-category five hurricane.

Sir Richard Branson shows damage on Necker island 00:34

“As you can see from the photos, much of the buildings and vegetation on Necker has been destroyed or badly damaged,” Sir Richard wrote from Puerto Rico, where he was mobilising aid efforts for the British Virgin Islands and wider Caribbean.

“We felt the full force of the strongest hurricane ever in the Atlantic Ocean. But we are very fortunate to have a strong cellar built into Necker’s Great House and were very lucky all of our teams who stayed on Island during the storm are safe and well.”

Richard Branson on Necker IslandCredit: Virgin.com/Virgin.com

He said others were not so lucky and urgently needed help.

“This story is about the tens of thousands of people who have lost their homes and their livelihoods. We have spent the past two days visiting team members who live on Virgin Gorda and as many people as possible, distributing aid, water and supplies. We have seen first-hand just how ferocious and unforgiving this storm was,” he wrote.

Damage on Necker IslandCredit: Virgin.com/Virgin.com

Urging people to remain calm amid reports of “civil unrest”, he said he was in contact with the British government and others to bring help to the region.

“The BVI needs an enormous amount of help to recover from the widespread devastation,” he added.

Boris Johnson attacked by father of stranded British woman for showing ‘callous disregard’ to UK victims

The father of a woman who was stuck on the British Virgin Islands after being refused permission to leave on a rescue plane has hit out at Boris Johnson and the Foreign Office’s response to stranded Britons, reports Helena Horton.

Amy Brown, who is trapped in a resort on one of the islands, has spoken of the terrifying and out-of-control looting and crime happening around her – and of her anger that she was not evacuated.

Mr Johnson was forced to respond to her father, Geoffrey Scott Baker, who accused him and the Foreign Office of “callous disregard” and described the response as “pitiful”.

British couple stranded on St Martin before Hurricane Jose strikes 01:12

Mr Scott Baker told the Radio 4 Today programme this morning: “It appears every country can airlift its citizens out apart from the United Kingdom, which is doing nothing on the ground.”

Mr Johnson said the UK had responded in a “timely and a highly organised fashion”, with further promises of support expected on top of the £32 million already committed and the pledge to match donations to the Red Cross appeal.

Click here to read more.

Cubans waist-deep in floodwater after enormous waves lash Havana

More pictures are reaching us from Cuba after Irma made landfall there on Friday.

Residents in coastal towns reported “deafening” winds, uprooted trees and power lines, and rooftops blown off as the then-category five storm struck.

Cubans wade through a flooded street in HavanaCredit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Cuba, but it caused significant damage and enormous waves lashed the Malecon, Havana’s emblematic seafront, with seawaters pushing deep into the capital.

A huge wave breaks near the Morro Castle in HavanaCredit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP

Residents in the old colonial city were waist-deep in floodwaters after Irma cut power and forced the evacuation of more than a million people.

Cubans recover their belongings after the passage of Hurricane IrmaCredit: YAMIL LAGE/AFP

Where are the warnings for storm surges?

As Hurricane Irma continues to track up the coast of Florida, storm surge warnings remain in effect for the following areas:

North Miami Beach south around the Florida peninsula to the Ochlockonee riverFlorida KeysTampa Bay

Irma weakens to category one as storm surge warnings remain

Hurricane Irma weakened to a Category 1 storm early on Monday as it marched up the US state of Florida’s northwestern coast, with its eye located about 25 miles northeast of the vulnerable Tampa area.

Maximum sustained winds had decreased to nearly 85mph as of 2am local time (7am BST), with Irma projected to become a tropical storm as it moved into northern Florida or southern Georgia later on Monday.

Warnings of dangerous storm surges remained in effect through vast swaths of peninsular Florida, where more than six million people had been ordered to flee Irma in one of the biggest evacuations in US history.

“As little as six inches of moving water can knock you down,” tweeted the state’s governor Rick Scott following the downgrade. “Stay inside. Stay safe.”

Irma was churning toward the heavily populated Tampa Bay region, a zone seen as particularly susceptible to storm surges due to its geographical position and sloping land off the coast. The extent of the damage remains unclear.

The storm had killed three people when it struck the southern Florida Keys island chain as a more powerful Category Four on Sunday.

Hurricane #Irma is now a Category 1 with 85 mph winds. Hurricane force gusts continue to be reported in Central Florida including Orlando. pic.twitter.com/R14VtsC3hB

— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) September 11, 2017

Irma has toppled cranes, swallowed streets and left millions without power after wreaking a trail of death and destruction through the Caribbean.

The historic storm is so wide that authorities faced destructive storm surges on both coasts of Florida and the Keys as it follows a path north toward Georgia.

Irma causes coast-to-coast damage in Florida

Hurricane Irma is pummelling Florida, with winds up to 130mph, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline.

The 400 mile-wide storm blew ashore in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys, then marched up its western coast, its punishing winds extending clear across to Miami and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side.

Irma’s core was nearing the heavily-populated Tampa and St. Petersburg area early on Monday, moving inland in a much-weakened state.

While it arrived in Florida a category four hurricane, by nightfall it was down to category two with winds of 100mph. On Monday morning, it had weakened to category one.

A partially collapsed construction tower crane as Hurricane Irma strikes in MiamiCredit: EPA

Meanwhile, more than 160,000 people waited in shelters statewide as Irma headed up the coast.

Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director, said authorities had only scattered information about the storm’s toll, but he remained hopeful.

“I’ve not heard of catastrophic damage. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means it hasn’t gotten to us yet,” he said.

In the low-lying Keys, where a storm surge of over 10 feet was recorded, appliances and furniture were seen floating away and Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said the ocean waters were filled with navigation hazards, including sunken boats.

Tornado at Fort Lauderdale Beach

County administrator, Roman Gastesi said crews would begin house-to-house searches to check on survivors and an airborne relief mission led by C-130 military cargo planes is gearing up to bring emergency supplies to the Keys.

Storm surge was a big concern, with a federal tide gauge in Naples reporting a 7ft rise in water levels in just 90 minutes late on Sunday.

Donald Trump on Irma: ‘This is some big monster’ 01:30

Many streets were flooded in central Miami and other cities.

An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, midway up the Atlantic coast, and flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida’s mid-section.

A downed tree lies across Cape Coral Parkway during Hurricane Irma in downtown Cape Coral, FloridaCredit: AP

Curfews were imposed in Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and much of the rest of South Florida, and some arrests of violators were reported. Miami Beach barred outsiders from the island.

Fort Lauderdale police arrested nine people they said were caught on TV cameras looting trainers and other items from a sports store and a pawn shop during the hurricane.

More than 3.3 million homes and businesses across the state lost power, and utility chiefs said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.

Vehicles drive through a flooded street as Hurricane Irma passes through Naples, FloridaCredit: AP

While Irma raked Florida’s Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire state was in danger because of the sheer size of the storm.

In one of the largest US evacuations, nearly seven million people in the south east were warned to seek shelter elsewhere, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

About 30,000 people heeded orders to leave the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused, in part because, to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.

The crumbled canopy of a gas station damaged by Hurricane Irma is seen in Bonita Springs in FloridaCredit: Reuters

John Huston, who stayed in his Key Largo home, watched his garden flood even before the arrival of high tide.

“Small boats floating down the street next to furniture and refrigerators. Very noisy,” he said.

“Shingles are coming off.”

Irma made landfall just after 9am at Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles outside Key West.

Floodwaters cover part of 3rd Ave in Dania Beach, east of U.S. Route 1, FloridaCredit: AP

During the afternoon, it rounded Florida’s south-western corner and hugged the coast closely as it pushed toward Naples, Sanibel, Fort Myers and, beyond that, Sarasota, at 14mph.

Forecasters warned some places could see a storm surge of up to 15 feet of water.

Gretchen Blee, who moved with her husband to Naples from Long Island, New York, after Superstorm Sandy heavily damaged their beach home in 2012, took cover in a hotel room as Irma raged.

“I said, ‘Let’s go and live the good life in paradise’,” she said. “And here we are.”

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