Netizen 24 IRL: Hurricane Irma powers through Florida

Hurricane Irma powers through Florida Hurricane Irma powers through Florida Cyclists are caught along the Fort Lauderdale waterfront (...

Hurricane Irma powers through Florida

Hurricane Irma powers through Florida
Cyclists are caught along the Fort Lauderdale waterfront (The Canadian Press/AP)
Cyclists are caught along the Fort Lauderdale waterfront (The Canadian Press/AP)

A weakened but still dangerous Hurricane Irma has pushed inland as it hammered Florida with winds and floodwaters that created hazards for rescuers trying to help beleaguered residents.

Irma continued its slog through Florida, while its outer bands were blowing wind and rain into Georgia.

With rough conditions persisting across Florida, many communities in the storm's wake feared what destruction would be revealed when daylight came.

Nearly 4.5 million homes and businesses across Florida lost power and utility officials said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.

More than 100,000 were in the dark in Georgia.

In Polk County, east of Tampa, winds knocked a utility pole and power lines on to a sheriff's vehicle late on Sunday, illustrating the dangerous conditions for emergency personnel.

A deputy and a paramedic, who had just escorted an elderly patient to safety, were trapped for two hours until a crew could free them. Both were unhurt.

More than 120 homes were being evacuated in Orange County, just outside the city of Orlando, as floodwaters started to pour in.

The fire department and the National Guard were going door-to-door and using boats to ferry families to safety, county officials said.

A few miles away, 30 others had to be evacuated when a 60ft sin khole opened up under an apartment building. No injuries were reported in either case.

Irma's centre was about 60 miles north of Tampa early on Monday, though in a much-weakened state.

While it arrived in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, it was down to a Category 1 with winds of 75mph.

The monster storm has toppled at least three constructions cranes - two over central Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale.

Continued weakening was forecast and the US National Hurricane Centre said Irma was expected to become a tropical storm later.

People in the heavily populated Tampa-St Petersburg area had feared a first direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921, but the storm weakened to a Category 2 as it approached that area.

Tampa mayor Bob Buckhorn said the situation was not as bad as it could have been, but he warned residents that dangerous storm surge conditions were expected to continue on Monday.

He said there were a lot of do wned power lines, along with other debris.

"What we feared the most was the surge," he said. "The surge is yet to be finished."

No deaths in Florida were immediately linked to the storm.

In the Caribbean, at least 24 people were killed during Irma's destructive trek across exclusive islands known as the holiday playground for the rich.

In Cuba, the storm swamped Havana's famous seawall, pushing water nearly a third of a mile inland.

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

More than 200,000 people waited in shelters across Florida.

In the coming days, Irma is expected to push into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and beyond.

A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, where many schools cancelled classes.

Bryan Koon, Florida's emergenc y management director, said late on Sunday that authorities had only scattered information about the storm's toll.

"I've not heard of catastrophic damage. It doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It means it hasn't gotten to us yet," Mr Koon said.

In the low-lying Keys, where a storm surge of over 10ft 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.

County administrator Roman Gastesi said crews would begin house-to-house searches to check on survivors.

Storm surge and tornadoes were two big concerns.

A tide gauge in Naples reported a 7ft rise in water levels in just 90 minutes late on Sunday.

An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, midway up the Atlantic coast.

Flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida& #039;s midsection.

Curfews were imposed overnight 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.

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.

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 by text message. "Shingles are coming off."

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

On Sunday afternoon, it rounded Florida's south-western corner and hugged the coast closely as it pushed north.

Irma was once the mo st powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185mph.

For days, forecasters had warned Irma was taking dead aim at the Miami area and the rest of Florida's Atlantic coast.

But then Irma made a westward shift and lost some of its punch while crossing Cuba's northern coast - just before a crucial turn into Florida's Gulf Coast.

Press Association

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Netizen 24 Ireland: Netizen 24 IRL: Hurricane Irma powers through Florida
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