MIAMI: Hurricane Irma, which has toppled cranes, swallowed streets and left millions without power, was starting to weaken on Monday while still pummeling parts of Florida on its destructive march north.
Irma was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane early Monday and forecasters expect it would become a tropical storm later in the morning, but warnings of hazardous storm surges persisted in several areas even after the worst of Irma’s ferocity had passed.
Maximum sustained winds had decreased to 75 miles per hour as of 5:00 am local time (0900 GMT) as Irma blazed its disastrous path through Florida, where more than six million people had been ordered to flee in one of the biggest evacuations in US history.
The massive storm’s center was forecast to move near the northwestern coast of Florida before crossing into the state of Georgia later into Monday. The National Hurricane Center cautioned that tornadoes remained possible in northeast Florida as well as southeast parts of Georgia and South Carolina into the evening.
Warnings of “life-threatening” storm surges remained in place in several areas of south and central Florida, including the heavily populated Tampa Bay region.
“As little as six inches of moving water can knock you down,” tweeted the state’s governor Rick Scott following Irma’s downgrade.
“Stay inside. Stay safe,” he added. “The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded.”
After wreaking a trail of death and destruction through the Caribbean, Irma killed three people when it struck the southern Florida Keys island chain as a powerful Category 4 storm on Sunday.
More than four million customers were without power throughout the state, according to Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. Florida Power and Light said it had “safely shut down” one of two nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point power plant.