Floridians assess damages as weakening Hurricane Irma heads north
As dawn broke Monday, residents of southern Florida awoke to see what Hurricane Irma left in its wake, including flooded streets and homes, crumpled gas stations and downed trees.
The 400-mile-wide storm made landfall on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, pummeling the Florida Keys. By Monday, Irma had weakened to a Category 1 storm, according to the National Hurricane Center, as it made its way up Florida's Gulf Coast toward the St. Petersburg-Tampa region.
"I've been here with other storms, other hurricanes. But this one scares me," said Sally Carlson in St. Petersburg, reported the Associated Press. "Let's just say a prayer we hope we make it through."
Flash floods and up to 15 inches of rain were expected as the storm continued on its northwest path. Irma's core was expected to reach southern Georgia on Monday afternoon before heading to Alabama.
At least 24 people were killed when Irma passed through the Caribbean. There were no immediate reports of deaths in Florida.
Florida emergency officials said more than 5.8 million homes and businesses in Florida were without power Monday morning. About 155,000 people had taken refuge in 573 shelters across the state.
On Sunday, President Donald Trump signed a disaster declaration for Florida to speed the release of federal aid to the state. "Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the declaration said.
The State and Defense departments have worked since Friday to evacuate about 1,500 U.S. citizens from Saint Martin in the Caribbean. The island's airport and seaport closed to commercial traffic after Hurricane Irma hit, and to further complicate matters, another hurricane was on the way, said Beth Finan, American Citizen Services officer with the State Department and member of the Hurricane Irma task force in Washington, D.C.
"By the time we were able to arrange access to the airport for our military colleagues, we had another hurricane (Jose) bearing down on us. So it was a real time crunch, on Friday especially, to get a lot of people out in a very short amount of time," she said. Evacuation flights were continuing on Monday.
Royal Caribbean cruise line also helped to bring about 200 American citizens from Saint Martin to Puerto Rico's capital San Juan. "It's been a trying few days for them," Finan said.