Trending and Update: Irma weakens to a tropical storm after knocking out power to millions in Florida
Irma weakens to a tropical storm after knocking out power to millions in Florida
MIAMI — The remnants of Hurricane Irma swept north through Florida on Monday, leaving behind a trail of debris, flooding and power outages after the storm roared up the state’s Gulf Coast and brought its drenching rainfall and battering winds into Georgia.
Irma weakened Monday to a tropical storm, losing some of its punch but still packing powerful winds that stretched from central Florida to North Carolina. Flash flood emergencies were also declared in Jacksonville, Fla., and Charleston, S.C.
As the storm roared through Florida, thrashing winds tore down trees and power lines alike, and by Monday afternoon officials said the storm appears to have cut power to a majority of the state’s 20.6 million residents.
“More than half of the population of Florida is out of power would be my guess,” Eric Silagy, president and chief executive of Florida Power and Light, the state’s largest utility, said at a news briefing Monday.
Silagy said as many as 9 million people are affected by his company’s outages — and while it supplies power to about half the state, it is not the state’s sole utility. Florida officials say two-thirds of all power company customers statewide lack power, totaling more than 6.5 million customer accounts. Since each account can represent more than one person, the number of people who lost power may be historic, Silagy said.
“We’ve never had that many outages. I don’t think any utility in the country has,” he said.
Silagy also cautioned that some people “could be out of power for weeks,” particularly if crews need to rebuild parts of the system. The utility had sent out 19,500 workers across Florida to restore power, Silagy said. The utility is also trying to secure more line and vegetation crews from out of state.
Because of the storm’s size, crews were not able to start restoration efforts until late last night, he said, and they are still not able to move across northern Florida. He also said debris is strewn throughout the state.
“This is a storm that has probably produced more debris than we’ve ever seen in the history of storms,” Silagy said. “We’ve had 10 years of growth that got pruned yesterday from Hurricane Irma, and unfortunately a lot of that ended up on our power lines.”
Even as millions waited to see when power companies could navigate debris-strewn roads and restore their access to electricity — and with it, things such as air conditioning and refrigeration — Irma surged ever onward, sweeping rain bands through Florida’s core and threatening a dangerous storm surge in the populous Tampa Bay area and along the Gulf Coast.
Torrential rain fell in the Florida panhandle, as well as Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas.
The storm had spent the weekend hammering South Florida with rain and wind before it made landfall twice on Sunday — first in the Florida Keys, then on Marco Island along the state’s southwestern coast — as it lumbered northward. Irma’s fury tore apart homes, flooded the Keys, swelled rivers to dangerous levels and, even as it weakened to a Category 1 hurricane and then a tropical storm on Monday, it was far from through.
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city was spared “a punch in the face” as Irma swung farther from the city. But he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program that emergency teams were deployed to keep people off the streets “when that surge comes.”