Irma downgraded to tropical storm; at least 5 dead

September 11, 2017 - 8:03 am

(TAMPA, Fla.) --  Hurricane Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm this morning as it continues to batter Florida with winds, torrential rain and dangerous storm surges. The storm has killed at least five and left nearly 6 million without power in the state.

Irma is headed toward toward Tallahassee and is expected to move tonight into Georgia and Alabama with heavy rain and winds. A tornado watch has also been issued in Florida from Daytona Beach to Jacksonville and into Georgia through Savannah.

The storm has dumped massive amounts of rain in Brunswick, Georgia, as well as the Florida cities of Daytona Beach, Orlando, Melbourne and Gainesville causing flash flooding in several of those areas.

A record storm surge was reported this morning in Jacksonville, exceeding the previous record set by Hurricane Dora in 1964. A flash flood warning is in effect for Jacksonville this morning as water is expected to flow into the city from the St. Johns River.

As of this morning, 125 rescues have been made from floodwaters in Orange County, Florida, officials said.

In Lakeland, Florida, police officers rescued a family with two young children who were stranded in a car that was submerged in about 4 feet of water in a ditch.

"In the car they found two adults and two small children, ages six months and ten months old," the police said. "The water had reached the kids car seats. Thankfully, all were not injured and officers were able to safely get them out of the car."

Irma strikes Florida Keys

Irma first made landfall in the Florida Keys Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing 130 mph winds and a storm surge of 10 feet. It was the first Category 4 landfall in Florida since 2004.

The Keys were under mandatory evacuation orders as Irma neared, but not everyone left.

In an interview with ABC News, Roman Gastesi the administrator of Monroe County, which includes the Keys, said officials will begin house-by-house searches today.

"Unfortunately, you start to hear stories of folks that stayed in houses that shouldn't," Gastesi said. "We're hearing of folks that stayed in boats," Gastesi said.

According to the Miami Herald, Florida Director of Emergency Management Bryan Koon estimates that about 10,000 people remained in the Keys during the storm but it is hard to communicate with those left there.

"We don’t have a comprehensive insight into what the damage is," Koon said late Sunday, "We will work on those at first light."

Storm pummels Miami and Naples

After Irma left the Keys Sunday morning, it moved north into south Florida with powerful wind, rain and flooding, swamping parts of Naples and Miami on opposite coasts before moving to the center of the state. Naples was hit with 142 mph winds, nearly 12 inches of rain and had a 7-foot storm surge. Wind gusts reached 94 mph in Lakeland, Florida, and up to 90 mph in the Tampa Bay area.

In Miami, which saw winds up to 99 mph, resident Joe Kiener told ABC New he's endured multiple hurricanes in the Caribbean but had never experienced a storm as brutal as Irma.

Kiener said, "I've been in Miami Beach for two years, which is prone to flooding but this completely out of the norm."

Kiener boarded up his house and is staying at a high-rise hotel in Miami while Irma moves through. But after windows in his hotel room started cracking, he came down to the lobby.

"The windows started cracking and these are massive massive impact windows. They were exposed 12 hours of continuous continuous heavy heavy winds. At one point in time, one of them started splintering and that's when I lost my nerve and said I'm leaving," he said. "It psychs you out -- it's just the endless hallowing and pounding of the wind."

"There are two factors really, it's the intensity of the wind impact and then the fear of flooding -- that is the biggest fear," he said. "I think for everyone."

Fatalities in Florida

At least five people, including a sheriff's deputy, died of storm-related injuries in Florida as the massive hurricane barreled across the Sunshine State.

Two people were killed in Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys. One person was found dead in a home in Shark Key. Another man was killed after he lost control of a truck that carried a generator as winds whipped at tropical-storm strength, officials said.

Two others, a sheriff's deputy and a corrections officer, died from a two-car crash in the rain in Hardee County, which is about 60 miles inland from Sarasota, officials said.

The fifth fatality was from a car crash in Orange County, which includes Orlando.

At least 27 people died from Irma in the Caribbean.

Millions ordered to evacuate amid widespread power outages

About 6.5 million Floridians were ordered to evacuate as Irma neared and some residents of Georgia and South Carolina were under evacuation orders, as well.

Some chose to go to shelters, others decided to hunker down at home to ride out the storm.

One Naples resident told ABC News she was turned away from two shelters before she and her 10-year-old son were finally accepted at one.

"We have a dog and there were not that many shelters that accepted dogs," she said, adding, "We didn't want to be that far away from our home." While she and her son stay inside the shelter, her husband is hunkering down with their dog at home.

As of 6 a.m. today, more than 5.7 million customers were without power in Florida -- that’s roughly 58 percent of all customers in the state. More than 73,000 were powerless in Georgia.

President Donald Trump approved a "major disaster" declaration in Florida on Sunday, authorizing "federal funding to flow directly to Floridians impacted by Hurricane Irma and reimburses local communities and the state government to aid in response and recovery from Hurricane Irma," state officials said.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said nearly 30 states had deployed personnel and resourced to help out with the response and recovery of Hurricane Irma. 

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