Hurricane Irma is continuing to lash Florida as it moves north up the peninsula. It is currently heading into the Tampa Bay area, according to the latest updates from the US national hurricane centre, but the storm is weakening and has been downgraded to a category one storm. It was a category four storm when it first made landfall in the Florida Keys.
The most immediate threat from the storm is the possibility of storm surges. The critical point could come at high tide, the USNHC said, and bring up to 15ft (4.5m) of water flooding inland in the Tampa area. High tide is expected at St Petersburg at 5.30am.
The hurricane’s maximum sustained winds weakened to 85 mph (135 kph) with additional weakening expected, the USNHC said at 2am local time.
Forecasters say they expect Irma’s centre to stay inland over Florida and then move into Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee. It will weaken into a tropical storm over far northern Florida or southern Georgia on Monday as it speeds up its forward motion.
The full extent of damage in Florida is not known although at least 3.3 million homes are without power in the state, with the prospect of more outages as Irma continues north. Miami International Airport will remain closed until at least Tuesday.
In the Caribbean, the premier of the British Virgin Islands, Orlando Smith, has asked for immediate aid from the British government to get the territories back on their feet after being devastated by Irma last week. He said the situation was “critical” and called for a “comprehensive package” to rebuild the islands.
The clean-up operation is continuing in the Caribbean where it is thought 28 people have been killed. French president Emmanuel Macron has promised to visit the badly-hit French island of St Martin on Tuesday. Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said the death toll on the Dutch part of St. Martin had doubled to four, and that 70% of homes had been damaged or destroyed.
Irma weakens to category one storm – USNHC
Irma has been downgraded again to category one and is “weakening” as it heads north of Tampa, the national hurricane centre said in its 2am update. The hurricane’s maximum sustained winds weakened to 85 mph (135 kph) with additional weakening expected.
If you’re just waking up in the UK/European time zone and want to catch up on the lastest, we have just updated our news report on the progress of Irma over the Florida peninsula and the clean-up operation in the Caribbean.
Irma so far and what’s next
Hurricane Irma made landfall at Cudjoe Key at 9.10am, with sustained winds of 130mph, the second category four hurricane to strike the mainland United States in two weeks. Seawater flooding over US-1 has cut off the Keys from the mainland, and a handful of images from the islands showed waters in buildings and over cars.
Tornadoes swept across swaths of south-eastern Florida, and gusts as strong as 100mph reported north of Miami. Rain and storm surges brought flooding into downtown Miami, and sustained winds approaching 45mph brought down a construction crane, trees and power lines. Police and emergency personnel took to shelters.
More than a 1.3 million people have lost power, and more than 70,000 are in shelters. About 6.5 million people were ordered to evacuate coastal areas all around the state, roughly a third of the state’s entire population.
Governor Rick Scott warned that south-west Florida could see imminent storm surges of 10-15ft above ground – breathtakingly fast waves as tall as a one-storey home. Tampa should expect surges as large as five feet, and south-eastern Florida surges of three to six feet, high enough to float cars or envelop a person. The Keys have recorded 12in of rain so far, and all of south Florida can expect another 8-15in.
Irma is expected to make a second landfall, this time on the mainland near Fort Myers, on Sunday evening. Meteorologists forecast a slight change in the storm’s path, saying that the city of St Petersburg is now more likely to suffer a direct hit than nearby Tampa. “We know we are ground zero for this storm,” mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “We have avoided it for 90 winds but our time has come to be ready.”
At least 25 confirmed dead around the Caribbean, including11 on French St Martin, the US and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dutch St Maarten, Barbuda, and Anguilla.
The storm levelled whole towns in its path, hurtling trees and debris like missiles and bringing huge waves into homes, businesses and hotels. Survivors and relief workers who stepped out into towns of northern Cuba, the British Virgin Islands, Barbuda and other islands found whole homes and businesses gutted by the wind and water.
Hurricane Jose, also a category four storm, has shifted northward, creating hope in the eastern Caribbean that survivors might be spared a second hurricane in five days.
Irma made landfall in Cuba on Friday evening as a Category 5 hurricane, lashing the island’s northern coast with a direct hit, before losing some of its force later. It was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1924.
• More than 200,000 people in Florida were without power early Sunday morning. Keys Energy Services, which supplies electricity to Key West and the Lower Florida Keys, said that all of its 29,000 customers were without power.
• At least 25 people were confirmed dead in areas in the Caribbean affected by the storm.
• In addition to an evacuation order in Miami, one of the country’s largest evacuations, 540,000 people were told to leave the Georgia coast. Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina have declared states of emergency.
• Mr. Scott said on Saturday that more than 385 shelters were open in Florida and that more were expected to open at night. More than 76,000 people were without electricity, he said.
• Hurricane Jose was passing farther north of the Leeward Islands than initially predicted, and St. Martin and St. Bart’s have downgraded hurricane warnings to tropical storm warnings. Check out our maps tracking the storm.
• Hurricane Katia, which made landfall on Mexico’s eastern coast, was downgraded to a tropical depression, with winds of 35 m.p.h. Two people died in a mudslide in the state of Veracruz after the storm hit, The Associated Press reported.