Though weakened, Hurricane Irma continues to pound Florida


Hurricane Irma tore a swath of destruction across South Florida on Sunday, with “life-threatening” flooding and destructive winds knocking out power to millions as it turned inland and bore down on Orlando overnight.

On Sunday afternoon, Irma made its second landfall at Marco Island, Fla., around 3:35 p.m. Eastern as a Category 3 hurricane, after earlier making landfall over the Florida Keys at 9:10 a.m. as a Category 4 storm. After the eye of the storm passed over Naples and toward the Fort Myers area, Irma was downgraded again to a Category 2, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, then to Category 1 early Monday. It’s expected to lose strength and be downgraded to a tropical storm later in the day.

Although it had been predicted to make its way up Florida’s Gulf Coast, Irma’s eye veered inland around Fort Myers on Sunday evening, and was moving north over land. The storm is now expected to hit Tampa and Orlando early Monday morning, and Tallahassee on Monday afternoon.

There are reports of at least five storm-related deaths, including in a single-vehicle crash. The storm killed at least 24 people in the Caribbean.

While it appeared Tampa would avoid a direct hit, worries were mounting that Orlando would take the brunt of Irma’s impact overnight. Walt Disney Co.’s DIS, +0.01%   Walt Disney World theme park closed until at least Tuesday, and Orlando’s many hotels were full with evacuees.

While Irma had weakened, it was still wreaking devastation across South Florida. At least 3.3 million Floridians were without power, and officials were warning of severe flash flooding from a massive storm surge expected on the west coast of the state.

“The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected,” the National Hurricane Center said Sunday. “This is a life-threatening situation.”

While water levels reportedly rose 7 feet in three hours in the Naples area, the worst-case storm surge scenario in that area appeared to lessen somewhat Sunday night as Irma took an inland turn. The expected overnight storm surge in Tampa was reduced to about 1 to 3 feet, according to Tampa Fire Chief Tom Forward, much to the relief of authorities.

The National Hurricane Center on Sunday night warned of 10 to 15 inches of rain through Wednesday on the western Florida peninsula, and 8 to 12 inches of rain in eastern Florida and southeast Georgia. Up to 8 inches of rain was expected in the Florida Panhandle, the rest of Georgia and parts of South Carolina and North Carolina.

Read: Harvey, Irma could ding U.S. economy for combined $290 billion

“I’ve not heard of catastrophic damage,” Bryan Koon, Florida’s emergency management director, told the Associated Press. “It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It means it hasn’t gotten to us yet.”

Also see: Tesla boosts range for some vehicles in Florida to escape Irma

Irma’s breadth was massive, with hurricane-force winds extending about 80 miles from its center, and tropical-storm-force winds extending about 220 miles. About 6.5 million Florida residents — almost a third of the state’s population — were under mandatory evacuation orders, in one of the largest such evacuations in U.S. history.

South Florida and the Keys were under a tornado watch during the day, and the Associated Press reported six mobile homes were destroyed by an apparent tornado in Palm Bay, Fla., on the state’s Atlantic coast. By Sunday night, the tornado threat had moved north, to northeast Florida and southeast Georgia and South Carolina.

Miami, which avoided a direct hit, was whipped by powerful winds that caused two giant construction cranes to collapse downtown. Many trees were uprooted, and city streets were flooded by storm surge.

Earlier Sunday, Irma drenched the Florida Keys with up to 25 inches of rain, which, combined with storm surge, was causing widespread flooding along the low-lying islands. With power and many communications down, the extent of damage in the Keys was unknown Sunday night.

As Irma moved north, the extent of damage in Cuba was beginning to emerge. There were reports of major flooding along the island’s northern coast, and extensive damage to homes, buildings and resorts. The Associated Press reported Havana was inundated by a sea surge up to a third of a mile inland. The Cuban government said more than 1 million people had been evacuated, but there were no immediate reports of casualties.

The massive storm snarled air travel, with more than 3,100 U.S. flights canceled Sunday, according to, plus a number of flights to Miami originating in Europe, the Middle East and South America. That number is expected to grow as Irma closes in Monday on Atlanta, which is Delta Air Lines’ DAL, +0.70% hub and the busiest airport in the world.

Insurance losses in the U.S. could total from $15 billion to $50 billion, according to a report Sunday by risk-assessment firm AIR Worldwide, with potentially another $5 billion to $15 billion from hard-hit Caribbean islands.

A report by AccuWeather on Sunday predicted the combined damage by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma could take a $290 billion toll on the U.S. economy, affecting everything from property damage to unemployment to rising fuel prices.

This was the first time ever two Category 4 hurricanes hit the mainland U.S. in the same year.