Irma pushes north, but millions without power in Florida

At least 4 deaths reported in state
Alejandro Mares and Eduardo Rodriguez walk through a neighborhood flooded by Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Fla.
Alejandro Mares and Eduardo Rodriguez walk through a neighborhood flooded by Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Fla.

Days after it began its assault on the Caribbean and southern Florida, Irma was still churning north Monday, causing fresh damage in areas where many Floridians had sought refuge over the weekend.

The massive storm’s rain bands reached out hundreds of miles beyond its center, wreaking havoc throughout much of Georgia and South Carolina on Monday. Storm surges were made worse by an unlucky coincidence that prompted flash flooding: Irma’s effects had arrived at high tide.

Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said that overall, Irma’s damage to his state was not as bad as the direst forecasts had predicted, but that some areas were thoroughly brutalized. About 65 percent of residents remained without power. And northern Florida, including the city of Jacksonville, was flooding.

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In southern Florida, residents faced life-altering damage and displacement that would prevent a return to normal life for some time. Many areas faced fuel shortages, as well as downed power lines and standing water.

The Keys, a series of low-lying islands, were hit especially bad. A stretch of highway there that leads to the United States’ southernmost point was riddled with Jet Skis, seaweed and the occasional refrigerator. In a few places, water had washed out chunks of the road. “I just hope everybody survived,” Scott said after flying over the islands on Monday. “It’s horrible what we saw.”

As of 5 p.m., the storm had maximum sustained winds of 50 mph and was moving north-northwest about 10 miles east of Albany, Georgia.

  • The National Weather Service said a flash flood emergency had been declared in Charleston, South Carolina.
  • Flooding from a storm surge in Jacksonville exceeded a record set by Hurricane Dora in 1964, the National Weather Service said. The city’s mayor urged those who needed to be rescued to raise makeshift white flags outside their homes.
  • At least four deaths were reported in Florida after the storm’s arrival Sunday. It has left at least 27 people dead across the Caribbean.
  • As many as 6.7 million customers are without power across Florida, according to state officials. The full extent of the damage is not yet known.

Irma Pushes North and Is Causing Problems in Charleston

High winds felled trees and severed service lines in Georgia and South Carolina on Monday, knocking out power for more than 900,000 electricity customers in the two states.

A tropical storm warning was issued for all of Georgia’s Atlantic coast and most of the South Carolina coast. Some of the worst flooding occurred in Charleston, where knee-high floodwaters coursed through the streets — high enough for some residents to navigate by kayak.

The National Weather Service issued a flash flood emergency for Charleston County, and said that parts of the Charleston peninsula, which contains the city’s historic core, were being closed down.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Mayor John Tecklenburg said that the city had been hit with a four-foot storm surge, leaving parts of the peninsula looking as if they had merged with the Ashley River.

“It sounds kind of counterintuitive that we’d have that, because the center of the storm is over 200 miles away in western Georgia, and here we are over on the coast of South Carolina,” he said. “But just if you looked at the bigger weather map and saw the counterclockwise rotation of Irma, juxtaposed with a clockwise high-pressure rotation over the Atlantic, Charleston was like in the pincer of those two motions that has driven wind and hurricane bands almost directly into our city.”

Tecklenburg said that the flooding was even worse than last year’s Hurricane Matthew, which inundated the city in October, in great part because Matthew arrived at low tide, whereas Irma’s effect came at high tide.

Farther inland, concerns about serious damage remained high, even as the storm’s power diminished somewhat.

In Atlanta, the winds whipping through the leaves created a sound like an angry sea breaking on a shoreline, and trees crashed into residences and onto roadways. The city’s public school system canceled classes through Tuesday, and Delta airlines, based in Atlanta, canceled about 900 flights Monday, noting a special concern about strong north-south crosswinds at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, which bills itself as the busiest in the world.

The forecast in Alabama was somewhat milder, though a tropical storm warning was in effect for much of the state’s eastern half.

Jacksonville Is Inundated, While Tampa Is ‘Looking Good’

“We need you to heed our warnings,” Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville said Monday, explaining that high tides would raise river waters up to 6 feet above their normal levels and cause additional flooding.

The mayor urged residents to avoid drawing on city resources except for in emergencies, but said people who needed rescuing should raise a white flag to draw the authorities’ attention.

Jacksonville was facing a “trifecta” of water-related threats, city officials said: Storm surge, heavy rainfall over the weekend and Monday’s rising tides. “This is potentially a weeklong event with water and the tides coming and going,” Curry said.

In Tampa, Mayor Bob Buckhorn, who on Sunday warned residents that the city was about to get “punched in the face,” said Monday that the city had been spared the storm’s worst.

“It’s looking good,” Buckhorn said. “The first blush is that not only did we dodge a bullet, but we survived pretty well. Not a lot of flooding. Tree removal, debris — don’t want to say it’s negligible, but it’s manageable.”

The city was again spared from a direct hit by a hurricane, as has been its good fortune for more than 90 years running. How? “Because we live good lives, because we only get drunk once in a while,” Buckhorn joked. “No, I don’t have an answer for that.”

In St. Petersburg, tree limbs littered lawns and minor debris had blown onto roads but was not stopping traffic. In Orlando, officials said the city had weathered the storm without major damage.

Governor Surveys the Florida Keys from the Air

Scott inspected the Florida Keys on Monday from a Coast Guard aircraft, saying the flight revealed extensive flood damage, boats washed ashore and trailer parks filled with overturned homes. “My heart goes out to the people in the Keys,” he said.

Scott also flew over the state’s Gulf Coast and reported there was less damage than had been feared. “We saw the remnants of the storm surge along the west coast, but I didn’t see the damage I thought I would see,” he said.

“It’s not as bad as we thought the storm surge would do,” he added.

He asked for patience as the state deals with a long recovery. “I know for our entire state, but especially the Keys, it’s going to be a long road,” he said. “There’s a lot of damage.”

Officials Try to Help People on Marco Island

Picking their way through ruined and waterlogged streets, rescue officials searched Monday through neighborhoods on Marco Island, checking in on people who stayed behind during the storm, which made landfall there Sunday.

“As soon as it was safe we went outside, and immediately began as the storm was coming at us and during the eyewall,” Capt. Dave Baer of the Marco Island Police Department said in an interview Monday.

Officials were also assessing tens of thousands of homes and condominiums on the island, where an estimated 30 percent of the 20,000 permanent population did not evacuate, Baer said.

There were no deaths and no serious injuries, he said. The rescues were all fairly similar — people stuck in cars as they tried to evacuate or in houses that had some sort of structural collapse.

The storm surge had receded by daybreak. “Now all our streets are dry,” said Larry Honig, chairman of the City Council. “We are without power and water, but presumably we will be restored in a couple of days. There is minimal structural damage. I know of no lost homes.”

Miami Residents Are Venturing Out Into the Streets

In Miami, spared from a direct blow but significantly flooded Sunday, Mayor Tomás Regalado pleaded for residents to stay off the streets during a news conference Monday morning. About 70 percent of the city remained without electricity, and roads were not only impassable but traffic lights were not working, city officials said.

The mayor made the request at a morning news conference, where officials said another concern was that parts of two cranes had collapsed during the storm.

But in Brickell, a high rise neighborhood, many people were already venturing out, cameras in hand, marveling at the number of trees that once lined the roads like Roman columns but now lay beaten and torn apart, defeated by the storm.

Tiffany Fields, who stayed at her home in Brickell throughout the storm despite an evacuation order, said on Monday that she had watched as the windows in a nearby building were blown out.

“It was a very long day,” she said. “When the winds were at their highest, I was worried I made the wrong decision.”

But by Monday, she was glad she stayed. She said she could not imagine spending three days in a shelter, cooped up and away from home. “That would have been the worst,” she said.

As Fields spoke, a steady stream of cars passed nearby, many returning home for the first time in three days to assess the damage and see if they could resume normal life.

Search-and-Rescue Team Pauses to Remember 9/11

The search-and-rescue team from California had been up since before dawn, packing their gear and checking, again, their dozens of vehicles. But before California Task Force 1 would leave from Orlando for expected missions in the Florida Keys, they bowed their heads.

“On this day, it would be appropriate for us to say a few words,” said Chuck Ruddell, a leader of the task force and one of the approximately dozen current members who worked on rescue efforts in New York.

“On this day, the 16th anniversary of 9/11, it’s an obligation, I think, for each of us to remind ourselves of those who were killed, recognize those who survived in honor of the sacrifices of the first responders and those recovery workers who were there for so many days,” he said.

There was silence, followed by a few “amens.” Then the task force went back to work. The potential devastation of the Keys, Ruddell reminded the group, loomed.

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