Update (8:00am ET): As it travels over the Florida Panhandle, Irma has been downgraded to a tropical storm. Yet it continues to produce some wind gusts that are near hurricane force.
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After hammering the Florida Keys, Miami, Naples and a large swath of the southernmost part of the state – leaving some 5 million Florida homes and businesses without electricity – the still-formidable Hurricane Irma weakened to a category one storm as it traveled over the Tampa Bay area.
According to NBC, no deaths were confirmed Sunday after the storm twice made landfall in Florida, first in Cudjoe Key, then again on Marco Island just southwest of the city of Naples. Florida's largest utility – Florida Power & Light Co. - reported that the storm had knocked out power to nearly three-quarters of its customers. All told, FP&L estimates that some 10 million Floridians will be effected by the power outages – a full 50% of the state’s population.
In fact, officials from the utility say the damage in the southwestern part of the state is so extensive, it could take weeks to fully repair, after Irma shredded powerlines, flooded streets and destroyed homes, according to ABC. One officials said it could be the costliest and most extensive infrastructure-rebuilding effort in US history.
"What we think we'll see on the west coast is a wholesale rebuild of our electric grid," Robert Gould, Florida Power & Light's vice president and chief communications officer, told ABC News. "That will take weeks."
"This thing is a monster," he added.
FPL had requisitioned 17,000 restoration workers from about 30 states in preparation for the storm. But even with an army of workers, the recovery effort will be time-consuming and incredibly costly.
“Gould estimated that FPL positioned "17,000 restoration workers from about 30 states" in anticipation of repair efforts before the storm arrived, but said that flooding from storm surges and traffic congestion as residents return home this week would delay the project.
"This is going to be a very, very lengthy restoration, arguably the most lengthy restoration and most complex in U.S. history," he said, asking that customers be patient.
On the east coast of the state, which avoided a direct hit from the eye of the storm, Gould expects repairs to last "probably a week or more."
Meanwhile, as of 5 am ET Monday, Irma had sustained winds of 75 mph as it continued to move inland. It was recently traveling about 60 mph north of Tampa, with what’s left of the storm ultimately headed for Georgia and Alabama. In an incredibly fortunate development, Tampa appears to have been largely spared by the storm. Some trees, power lines and signs were down but there was no widespread damage and no signs of flooding downtown – this after city officials worried that Tampa could experience its own “Katrina moment” due to the city’s woefully inadequate storm infrastructure.
Of course, the damage from the 400-mile-wide storm isn’t over yet. A storm surge warning remains in effect for some parts of the state, including Tampa Bay, though the warnings were ended for parts of south Florida. As we noted yesterday, the storm surge is a wall of water from the ocean as well as nearby lakes, bays, estuaries and wetlands created by a storm’s hurricane force winds. It can form suddenly – like it did in Naples on Sunday when the NHC reported that floodwaters climbed seven feet in just 90 minutes.
Hurricane-force winds were extending outward up to 60 miles from Irma's center, and tropical-storm-force winds were being felt up to 415 miles away, the National Hurricane Center said early Monday.
While Irma has repeatedly contradicted expectations, most memorably when the storm shifted westward on Saturday, setting up the southwestern part of the state for a direct hit, here’s what forecasters expect from the storm on Monday, according to NBC.
- Irma hit the lower Florida Keys with winds of up 130 mph just after 7 a.m. ET Sunday. It made landfall on Cudjoe Key around 2 hours later. It weakened to a Category 1 storm early Monday.
- It passed the Tampa Bay area early Monday on its way to northern Florida.
- The Florida Keys could get 10 to 20 inches of rain, and the western peninsula could get 10 to 15 inches.
- The center of Irma was expected to cross the eastern Florida Panhandle into southern Georgia on Monday afternoon before later heading into eastern Alabama.
- Tornados were possible in northeast Florida and the southeast portions of Georgia and South Carolina through Monday night.
While it avoided the direct hit that some were expecting, the city of Miami still experienced catastrophic winds and flooding. Many streets remain submerged, and three construction cranes collapsed in Miami and Fort Lauderdale.
As of about 5 am, the eyewall of the storm – the most-dangerous area where windspeeds are often the highest – was hammering the city of Jacksonville. According to one meteorologist, the surge at Mayport was among the highest he’d seen from any NOS gauge. The city had received eight inches of rain, with 80-90 mph gusts. According to NHC, Irma is expected to weaken to a tropical storm this morning and a tropical depression by Tuesday afternoon.
Much of downtown Jacksonville, including the Hyatt Regency Hotel, has already experienced extensive flooding...
...As a record storm surge caused the Saint Johns river to overflow:
Here's some video from Jacksonville...
Already, damage estimates suggest that Irma could enter the pantheon of costliest hurricanes in US history just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey accomplished a similar feat in the Gulf of Mexico. According to Bloomberg, Enki Research estimates for total damages dropped to $49 billion from $200 billion earlier.
Some residents in and around the Miami area were beginning to venture outside, despite the downed power lines and debris, as rains stopped and sunshine returned.
“This had the potential to be catastrophic,” said Gladys Ibarra, 51, who works in finance at a shipping company, as she wandered an inland stretch of Coral Gables, where tree limbs littered the ground, but buildings looked little damaged. “We were very scared, and we were very lucky.”