The first Floridians will return home on Monday to survey the damage wreaked by Hurricane Irma.
The powerful hurricane made landfall Sunday morning in the Florida Keys as a category 4 storm and then made it’s way up the Golf Coast – knocking out power to some 5.8million Floridians, swamping downtown Miami with storm surge and blowing the roofs off homes.
More than 200,000 people waited in shelters statewide as Irma headed up the coast. Up to 10,000 people are believed to have stayed in their Florida Keys homes during the storm and now have no water, food or power, officials have warned.
As of Monday morning, the storm was still pummeling northern Florida, centered west of the city of Ocala, but had been downgraded to a tropical storm. The National Hurricane Center predicts the storm will cross Monday into southwest Georgia, where a hurricane warning was in effect for a large rural area including the cities of Albany and Valdosta.
With rough conditions persisting across Florida, many communities in Irma’s wake feared what destruction would be revealed when daylight came.
The death toll jumped to five today with reports of a person found dead in a home in the Florida Keys.
But this morning, Florida Director of Emergency Management Bryan Koon said he could not confirm or deny reports of multiple deaths or extensive damage admitting: ‘I don’t have any numbers on fatalities at this point.’
Zachary Harrison, his fiance Cheyanne O’Donnell and their three children, Jaiden, 14, Jackson, 9, and Ella, 10-months, get their first look at the damage to their neighborhood caused by Hurricane Irma on Monday in Fort Meade, Florida
A large tree is seen laying on top of a home after high winds from Hurricane Irma came through the area on Monday in Fort Meade, Florida
A large tree is seen laying in the front yard of a home after high winds from Hurricane Irma came through the area on Monday in Fort Meade, Florida
Workers from Orange County rescue make a final check of an area on a flooded street after they were called to rescue residents from their homes during Hurricane Irma on Monday in Lake Buena Vista, Florida
This satellite image shows Tropical Storm Irma as it moves up Florida’s West Coast Monday morning
While Irma has been downgraded to a tropical storm over Florida, it still has winds near hurricane force.
Storm surge flooding in downtown Jacksonville exceeded a record set during a 1965 hurricane by at least 1 foot, according to the National Weather Service. A river gauge downtown in the Atlantic Coast city measured 3 feet above flood stage.
‘Move to higher ground now,’ the weather service warned people near the St. Johns River.
To the south, winds knocked a utility pole and power lines onto a sheriff’s cruiser late Sunday in Polk County, 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.
And more than 120 homes were being evacuated early Monday in Orange County, just outside the city of Orlando, as floodwaters started to pour in. Firefighters and the National Guard were going door-to-door and using 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 in either case.
In Redington Shores west of Tampa, attorney Carl Roberts spent a sleepless night riding out Irma in his 17th floor beachfront condo. After losing power late Sunday, he made it through the worst of the storm shaken but unhurt.
‘The hurricane winds lashed the shutters violently, throughout the night,’ he wrote in a text message, ‘making sleep impossible.’
As morning broke, he couldn’t open the electric shutters to see outside.
‘It’s so dark in here,’ he said.
Nearly 5.8 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.
Irma’s center was about 105 miles north of Tampa when forecasters announced it had weakened to a tropical storm. However, they warned its maximum sustained winds were 70 mph, and the storm was still producing higher gusts.
Hurricane Irma has hammered Fort Myers (above) on the west coast of Florida with 110 mph winds after making landfall for the second time
Areas of Naples (above) are now suffering substantial flooding and swathes of the west coast are under 15ft storm surge warnings. The National Hurricane Center said water levels in Naples rose 7ft in just 90 minutes
Hurricane Irma left nearly 4.5million people without power after the deadly storm battered Florida. This was the scene as the storm lashed the coastline
People tend to a car that flipped over on Cape Coral Parkway during Hurricane Irma last night in Cape Coral
Traffic lights were left swinging in Tampa as 100mph winds brought on by Irma tore through the area on its march north
This was the scene as Hurricane Irma brought strong winds when it struck Fort Myers (pictured above) yesterday
Dozens of trees were uprooted and power cables brought down in Fort Myers when strong winds tore through the city
Water levels rose rapidly in Naples (above) from Hurricane Irma’s storm surge with a reported a seven foot rise of water in just 90 minutes. The storm kept its top sustained wind speed of 110 mph yesterday
A person walks through a street lined with debris and fallen trees as Hurricane Irma passes through Naples
A house in Naples was submerged in water as flooding hit the city in the wake of fierce winds during Hurricane Irma
The monster storm, which arrived in Florida as a Category 4 hurricane, has toppled at least three constructions cranes – two over downtown Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale.
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 warned residents that dangerous storm surge continued. He also described downed power lines and other debris.
Speaking Monday morning on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,’ Buckhorn said ‘What we thought was going to be a punch in the face was a glancing blow.’
Buckhorn did say there are a lot of downed power lines and debris.
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 a couple more days.
Meanwhile, rescue efforts ramped up in the evacuated neighborhood near Orlando as Guardsmen in helmets and fatigues rolled through standing water in a high-clearance vehicle. Firefighters rescued a puppy from one of the homes there and leashed the anxious dog to the front of one of their trucks to give it water and snacks.
As the sun rose in Orlando, many tried to survey the damage, but authorities warned that conditions remain dangerous and asked people not to venture outside because of a curfew.
Dramatic pictures have emerged showing the moment Hurricane Irma’s powerful 130mph winds ripped the roof off a Miami home
A floundered boat is shown at the Haulover Marine Center at Haulover Park in North Miami Beach. Hurricane Irma left behind flooding and devastation in the south as it continued northwards, making landfall again near Naples
Miami’s famed Ocean Drive was slammed by Hurricane Irma’s winds and rain as it made landfall yesterday, following hours of increasingly dangerous weather
Irma tore down a construction crane atop a skyscraper high over Miami (left and right). Cranes are designed to withstand strong winds and twist like weather vanes to reduce resistance, but Irma was too much
The rough waters where the Miami River meets Biscayne Bay in Miami shows the full effects of Hurricane Irma. Downtown Miami was completely flooded, with waves rolling down the roads
Recently planted palm trees lie strewn across the road as Hurricane Irma passes through Miami Beach
A door is seen blown in at a Regions Bank as Hurricane Irma passes through Miami with its 130mph winds; note the leaves continuing to spiral in the air
Trees sway in strong winds during a storm as Hurricane Irma hits Marco Island in Florida. Officials say it is too soon to determine how many fatalities there have been across the state
Irma has so far claimed five lives in Florida, including two law enforcement officials involved in a car crash yesterday. Hardee County Sheriff’s deputy and mother-of-one Julie Bridges and Hardee Correctional Institute sergeant Joseph Ossman crashed and died around 60 miles from Saratosa.
In the Caribbean, at least 24 were people were killed during Irma’s destructive trek across exclusive islands known as the vacation playground for the rich.
Bridges, one of the people killed during the hurricane, had been collecting supplies to keep helping civilians when she collided with Ossman, 53, who had been going to work.
‘She worked the shelter all night and was going home to retrieve some more items and then go back to the shelter,’ Hardee County Sheriff Arnold Lanier told the Herald-Advocate.
The wreck was reported at 6.53am, having been found at the intersection of Old Crewsville Road and SR 66 in Zolfo Springs. No other vehicles or people were involved.
Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the incident, and has not yet ruled whether the winds and rain caused by Irma at the time of the crash directly influenced the accident.
Bridges was a mother of an eight-year-old boy and a member of the sheriff’s Honor Guard. Ossman, meanwhile, had been working at the Hardee Correctional Institute for 21 years.
‘We are heartbroken by this loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and fellow officers at this time,’ Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told the Miami Herald.
They were not the only people to die amid the deluge.
Another man was killed after tropical-storm-strength winds caused him to lose control of the truck he was driving through Monroe County, which contains Key West. He had been carrying a generator, local officials told ABC News.
And an elderly man died of natural causes while sheltering in a school in the city of Marathon on the Keys, Larry Kahn, an editor for FlKeysNews.com, said.
‘He was staying in one of the classrooms,’ Khan explained. ‘Police came up, along with a couple of nurses who are here, actually, got everyone out of the room and sealed it off.’
Those deaths come after Irma claimed at least 25 lives in the Caribbean as it swept over several countries, destroying entire islands. Yesterday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the confirmed death toll on the Caribbean island of St Maarten had increased to four.
In one of the largest U.S. evacuations, nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to seek shelter, including 6.4 million in Florida alone. More than 200,000 people waited in shelters across Florida.
An overnight curfew was imposed in Miami to stop opportunistic looters taking advantage of the countless coastal homes that now stand abandoned.
But at least 32 people have been arrested across Florida for trying to loot the empty businesses and homes.
Two people burst into an Orlando sporting store and allegedly stole guns, before facing off with SWAT in a standoff. Shocking videos also emerged of gangs trying to break into stores and take advantage of deserted properties.
Hardee Correctional Institute sergeant Joseph Ossman (left) and Hardee County Sheriff’s deputy Julie Bridges (right) died when their vehicles collided during Hurricane Irma. It’s not clear whether the weather influenced the smash
Bridges was a mother of an eight-year-old boy (pictured). She had been going home to pick up supplies to help those affected by the storm when the collision occurred
Another victim of the storm was claimed when his truck (pictured) was swept off the road and into a tree in Monroe County. He has not yet been named
Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director, said late Sunday that authorities had only scattered information about damage.
‘I’ve not heard of catastrophic damage. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means it hasn’t gotten to us yet,’ Koon said.
In the low-lying Keys, 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.
The county administrator, Roman Gastesi, said crews would begin house-to-house searches Monday morning to check on survivors. They suspect they may find fatalities. Gastesi says they are ‘prepared for the worst.’
About 30,000 people heeded orders to leave the Keys as the storm closed in, but about 10,000 refused, in part because, to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.
Koon said it was likely they did not have power or water and that there would have been ‘fairly significant impact to homes’.
‘It is obvious we need to get in there, assess the damage and figure out what we need to do for helping those folks,’ he said.
John Huston, who stayed in his Key Largo home, watched his yard 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.’
As the nation’s eyes turned to follow Irma up the west coast of Florida, the Keys began to take in the immensity of the damage done.
Florida responded with the launch of a massive airborne relief mission by Monroe County Emergency Management, whose director, Martin Senterfitt, called the damage done to the Keys a ‘humanitarian crisis.’
He promised disaster mortuary teams, as well as C-130 cargo planes, which United States Air Force special operations pilots are testing flights around the massive storm. Also on the mission will be Air National Guard flights of more C-130s, backed up by squadrons of helicopters. They are expected to start arriving early Monday morning.
The first load will head to Florida Keys Marathon Airport. As it can handle about two C-130 planes at a time, the plan is to land two every two hours, keeping a steady flow of good.
‘The help is on its way,’ Senterfitt said, adding: ‘We’re going to get more aid than we’ve ever seen in our lives.’
It has been difficult to determine the extent of damage Hurricane Irma caused in the Florida Keys due to difficulties with communication.
Irma once was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185 mph (300 kph). For days, forecasters had warned Irma was taking dead aim at Florida. Irma made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane Sunday morning at Cudjoe Key, not far from Key West. It then rounded Florida’s southwestern corner and hugged the coast closely as it pushed north.
Heavy rainfall is predicted to continue falling throughout the week, even as Irma moves on, breaks up and dissipates
Hurricane Warnings were in effect for almost the whole of Florida, with Tropical Storm Warnings up into Georgia and beyond. The extent of Irma’s destruction cannot be fully predicted at this point
Meanwhile, Miami International Airport has announced it will be closed today and there has been no confirmation flights will resume on Tuesday.
Orlando International Airport closed Saturday and won’t reopen to passenger traffic until after Irma has passed, a damage assessment has been completed, necessary recovery efforts made and the airlines are consulted to determine when best to resume operations.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport says on its website it has no timetable yet to reopen. Its last flights were Friday. Tampa International Airport also is closed as Hurricane Irma moves up the Florida peninsula.
Airlines are preparing their recovery schedules, which may take several days to execute.
President Donald Trump said last night that the U.S. may have gotten a ‘little bit lucky’ after Hurricane Irma veered from its original course and headed west along Florida’s coast.
He said Irma might not have been quite as destructive as a result, but that things will play out over the next several hours. Trump added that Irma would cost ‘a lot of money’ but he wasn’t thinking about that because ‘right now, we’re worried about lives, not cost.’
He declared a major disaster in the state of Florida, making federal aid available to people affected by Hurricane Irma in nine counties already hit by the storm.
The federal help includes temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover in the counties of Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, and Sarasota.
Federal funding also is available to governments and non-profit organizations for emergencies in all 67 Florida counties. For the first 30 days, that money will cover 100 percent of the costs of some emergency responses.
The US Air Force flew in more than 300 doctors and nurses to Orlando ahead of Irma’s arrival
A car sits abandoned in storm surge along North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard. Irma made initial landfall at 9:10am on the Florida Keys, which are now the subject of a massive relief effort. Five people have been confirmed dead in the disaster
A dolphin statue at the Anglins Fishing Pier’s Beach Cafe in Fort Lauderdale lies sprawled across the ground, having been toppled by Hurricane Irma
Palm Bay officer Dustin Terkoski walks over debris from a partially collapsed two-story home at Palm Point Subdivision in Brevard County
This residential street in Fort Lauderdale suffered massive flooding as Irma pounded the city relentlessly in its continued passage northwest up Florida
Large waves produced by Hurricane Irma crash all the way over the top of Anglins Fishing Pier in Fort Lauderdale as Irma picks up steam in the area
Palm trees were already being shredded by winds and boats rocking ominously in the harbor as Irma roared toward land at 8-10mph, bringing windspeeds of up to 130mph
Mike Theiss showed early storm surges on his Twitter feed from the Key West area. Those who had not already fled the city were told to write their names and social security numbers on their arms so their bodies could be identified
At least 32 people have been arrested across Florida for trying to loot empty businesses and homes that have been evacuated in preparation for Hurricane Irma
Jacqui Sands, who is the manager of the house, elected to remain with the family’s 54 six-toed cats and other members of staff (pictured is volunteer Nicole Navarro). Besides a few fallen trees, the property did not appear to suffer hurricane damage
‘As our staff member, Nicole Navarro was confirming all cats were accounted for, the cat Grace Kelly (pictured) took over roll call,’ staff members wrote on the home’s Facebook page Saturday night
The former home of Ernest Hemingway (pictured) is likely to have been hit hard by the storm after Irma roared across Key West. The manager, 72-year-old Jacqui Sands, elected to remain with the family’s 54 six-toed cats and other members of staff.
Gretchen Summer, 79, and her son, Dave Payson, 52, take shelter from Hurricane Irma inside the Germain Arena in Estero
People take shelter at Key West High School in Key West, Florida on Saturday night as Hurricane Irma approaches
The Blinckman family use their personal devices while sheltering in a stairwell utility closet as Hurricane Irma goes over Key West. Electricity and running water were both out in Marathon
As Irma swept over the country, people trapped in its midst told DailyMail.com of the drama they were enduring. One of them was lifelong Floridian Jacqueline Cobb of Pembroke Pines, which is near Miami.
She had been forced to bunker down in a school as it was the only shelter she could find for people with special needs, like her friend Stephen Herndon who has problems with his autonomic nervous system that can cause severe nosebleeds, fainting and overheating.
She had originally found a hotel for them to stay in, but it canceled their booking, saying that the lack of impact windows and a backup generator meant they had to shut down.
Cobb helped out as a Red Cross volunteer in Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but says Irma is on another level. ‘It was nothing like this, because Hurricane Andrew was a smaller, more compact hurricane, so you could get away from it,’ she said.
‘We did not feel the wrath, so to speak, in the northern part of the county, but in the southern part it was a battle field. It was completely decimated, some houses were completely destroyed, others were partially damaged.’
Cobb and her friend are safe in her shelter, but a shocking text message left her worried about her home and neighbors.
‘I received a code red tornado alert,’ she said. ‘I have a two-story townhouse and there is a three-and-a-half-ton air conditioner on the rooftop. I’m on a lake in the first house, so If the tornado rips that off, it will open up my house and let water into the building,’ she said.
British tourists Stephanie and Elliott Jay, and their two-year-old daughter Isabella (all left) were hiding in Bradenton after their holiday in Miami turned into a nightmare
Reader Jenny Williams sent in this photograph from her Saratosa neighborhood where she and many of her neighbors had decided to weather out the storm
A pair of misguided mariners had to be rescued by artin County Sheriff’s Office after their boat got caught up in the storm (right) – and they told police they couldn’t swim. The boat was later pulled in to shore (right)
The silly sailors were later brought onto safe land by the brave responders, the sheriff’s department revealed in a video on Facebook later
Locals have been warned not to go outside in the strong winds as there is risk not just from the winds itself, but from flying debris, including palm fronds – which can weigh up to 25lbs – and street signs
Skate date: The plan was not ready just yet though, as the man had to still built his post
Also in the line of the storm was British tourist Stephanie Jay, who took shelter in Naples with her husband Elliot and their two-year-old daughter Isabella.
The family, from St Albans outside London, had enjoyed a week’s holiday in Miami until they were unceremoniously evicted from their hotel.
‘We went down to reception to ask what was happening and were told to pack our bags and move out of the hotel,’ she told DailyMail.com.
‘They weren’t very helpful considering they knew we were very worried, especially as we don’t know many people in Florida… They clearly didn’t want us to be there and made our one night there very difficult.’
‘We tried to get out of Florida but all the flights were booked and we knew they would be closing the airport so didn’t want to be stranded with a two year old,’ she said.
Instead, they spent a night in Naples with a friend before heading to Bradenton, south of Tampa. That has left them in the path of the oncoming Irma – but they are remaining positive and hope to return home as planned next week.
In more serious trouble were a pair of would-be sailors who called Martin County Sheriff’s Office for help after they remained on their boat in the storm – even though they could not swim.
‘MCSO Marine Rescue and Strike Teams are launching into treacherous waters to begin a marine rescue of two people who remained on their boat near the causeway,’ a post on the sheriff’s office’s Facebook page.
‘The mariners say they are unable to swim. We will keep you posted on this. Please pray for the safety of our brave first responders.’
Video later showed the paid being led off their boat safely onto the docks.
Richard Branson (pictured) has posted photos and videos revealing just how devastating Hurricane Irma has been on the British Virgin Island of Necker
Mr Branson, 67, stayed locked up in his wine cellar on Necker while the powerful storm started raging outside on Wednesday. Pictured is what is left of part of the island
A tree is seen toppled onto a pickup truck in Miami after being battered by Irma’s winds. Flying debris is an omnipresent danger for those outside in the terrifying weather
Key West’s streets started to flood as Hurricane Irma struck the area. Even with the eye 15-20 miles out, winds and rain had made it too dangerous to drive
Authorities have warned that locals are on their own and emergency services will not be able to help those trapped in the worst of the storm once it hits, and have said everyone should get to safety
Fronds – each of which can weigh up to 25lbs – were being knocked off palm trees by the fearsome winds on Ocean Beach, Miami as the hurricane struck the city
Debris fills the tree-lined streets of a residential area in Coral Gables, Miami. Winds have shredded flora and snapped off branches