Irma weakens, moves north, but continues causing misery

p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Helvetica Neue'; color: #454545} Road crews clear debris after Hurricane Irma passed through on Sept. 11, in Naples, Florida.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.As some Floridians began to emerge Monday, people found they are unable to get to their homes, and many are without power and water.

The storm engulfed nearly the entire Florida peninsula, wreaking havoc from the state's southernmost point up to the Georgia line, from the Atlantic coast to the Gulf side. It swamped homes, uprooted massive trees, cast boats ashore, snapped miles of power lines and toppled construction cranes.

More than 400 miles from where Irma first came ashore, storm surge brought flooding to the Jacksonville area at levels not seen in more than 50 years, with at least 46 people pulled from swamped homes.

"Stay inside unless you are in danger," forecasters warned.

The full breadth of the damage statewide remains unknown, though, with communications and travel cut off by high winds and flooding.

Although Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm Monday morning, its impact is still significant, with some officials saying the damage is worse than they initially anticipated and that it surpassed the damage caused by Hurricane Charley in 2004.

"How are we going to survive from here?" asked Gwen Bush, who waded through thigh-deep floodwaters outside her central Florida home to reach National Guard rescuers and get a ride to a shelter. "What's going to happen now? I just don't know."

The Florida Highway Patrol in South Florida began assessing roadways to make sure they're safe for drivers after downed trees and other obstructions created obstacles on major roadways.

"We just want to remind everybody, just stay off the road right now until we can get these areas assessed and get them safe again for people to drive," Sgt.
Mark Wysocky said.

In Central Florida, severe flooding was reported and many residents had to be rescued from flooded homes.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings asked residents to not use the water in the area as officials worked to restore power. He also requested homeowners wait until heavy winds pass to begin attempting to remove debris.

"We lose more people after the storm before we get our areas cleaned up than we lose during the storm," Jacobs said.

People in the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area were braced for their first direct hit from a major hurricane since 1921. But by the time Irma struck in the middle of the night Monday, its winds were 100 mph or less.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the situation was not as bad as it could have been, but warned residents that dangerous storm surge continues. He also reported downed power lines and other debris.

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

Video from the Keys showed a pickup truck zig-zagging over the center line to avoid several boats tossed onto the asphalt. Nearby, houses were shoved from their foundations, and trees and other debris blocked a road.

East of Tampa, winds knocked a utility pole and power lines onto a sheriff's cruiser late Sunday in Polk County.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 early Monday just outside Orlando as floodwaters started to pour in. Firefighters and members of the National Guard went door-to-door and used boats to ferry families to safety.

A few miles away, 30 others had to be evacuated when a 60-foot sinkhole opened up under an apartment building. No injuries were reported.

More than 6.2 million homes and businesses remained without power, and 220,000 people huddled in shelters during the storm. Officials warned it could take weeks for electricity to be restored to everyone.

As of mid-morning, Irma's outer bands were also blowing into Georgia, where the storm's center was expected to arrive later in the day. From there, Irma is expected to push into Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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