Irma now a tropical storm, but still lashing Florida and Georgia

ROBERTO GUZMAN  EPA-EFE  REX  Shutterstock

ROBERTO GUZMAN EPA-EFE REX Shutterstock

MILLIONS WITHOUT POWER High winds snapped power lines and left about 5.8 million Florida homes and businesses without power, data from the state showed numerous evacuation orders extended until at least Monday due in part to flooding, massive power outages and downed electric lines, leaving residents unable to return to their homes to survey any damage. TV news video of damage in Naples, a city on the Gulf coast about 125 miles (200 km) northwest of Miami, showed buildings ripped apart by winds and streets flooded by rain and storm surges.

However, there is some good news to report on the Irma front today: according to the latest information from CNN, what was once classified as one of the worst hurricanes in recorded history has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday.

At the 5 p.m. advisory, the National Hurricane Center extended its hurricane warning northward for the east coast of Florida to Sebastian Island and to Anna Maria Island on the west coast. Regardless, Deal stuck by his evacuation order issued a day earlier for Georgia's almost 540,000 coastal residents to leave beginning Saturday morning. Around Florida, zoos, theme parks, rescue centres and other places with animals braced for Hurricane Irma's arrival.

"I've heard there's some significant damage, right where the eye of the storm hit", Scott told NBC's "Today" show. The strength would hit full strength as it will make landfall initially across the Keys and then southwest Florida on Sunday morning. A storm surge warning means there is a danger of life-threatening inundation from rising water moving inland from the coastline in the next 48 hours. It flooded streets and coasts, swamped homes, uprooted massive trees, cast boats ashore, snapped power lines and toppled construction cranes. All causeways leading to Miami Beach were closed by police.

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Another 125 emergency rescues were made in less than an hour Monday in Orange County, home to Orlando - an inland city where many coastal residents had evacuated to before the hurricane.

Tropical storm warnings went into effect for southern parts of Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama.

NHC forecasters say that the precise timing of the turn to the northwest remains uncertain. In the Caribbean, at least 24 were people were killed during Irma's destructive trek across exclusive islands known as the vacation playground for the rich.

The National Weather Service Greenville-Spartanburg reported sustained winds of at least 40 miles per hour or wind gusts of 58 miles per hour or stronger could occur. Some 200,000 were housed in shelters during the storm, according to federal officials. Meanwhile, heavy equipment crews have begun clearing away road and other debris in Florida as cleanup crews fan out with chain saws to remove downed trees and begin taking stock of the extent of the damage. Emergency officials expect tropical storm winds to reach Georgia's coast, where storm surges could be amplified by unusually high tides. Three storm-related deaths have been reported, as Irma moves northwards.

"Take action now to protect your life", the National Weather Service in Key West advised.

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