Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismail| 11 September 2017| 20 Dhul Hijjah 1438
Hurricane Irma weakened to a Category 1 storm early on Monday as it marched up the US state of Florida’s northwestern coast, with its eye located about 40km northeast of the vulnerable Tampa area.
Maximum sustained winds had decreased to near 140km/h as of 2:00 am local time (06:00 GMT), with Irma projected to become a tropical storm as it moved into northern Florida or southern Georgia later on Monday.
Warnings of dangerous storm surges remained in effect through vast swaths of peninsular Florida, where more than six million people had been ordered to flee Irma in one of the biggest evacuations in US history.
“As little as six inches of moving water can knock you down,” tweeted the state’s governor Rick Scott following the downgrade.
Irma was churning toward the heavily populated Tampa Bay region, a zone seen as particularly susceptible to storm surges due to its geographical position and sloping land off the coast.
The storm had killed three people when it struck the southern Florida Keys island chain as a more powerful Category Four on Sunday.
“There’s a huge difference between a (Category) 3 and 5 when it makes landfall,” said private meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics “Barbuda is an example of that. It was wiped.”
“This is obviously not the worst case scenario for Florida overall,” Maue said. Had the center of Irma hit Florida 32-50 kilometers to the east “it would have been much worse”.
Jonathan Brubaker, 51, waited out the storm bunkered in a recently constructed house in Bradenton, on the state’s west coast south of Tampa, with hurricane shutters drawn, flashlights and candles ready.
As a radar app on his phone showed Irma passing by, he had seen little more than gusty winds. He still had power.
“I feel like we kind of dodged bullet on this one,” he said, adding that he would wait until Monday morning before trying to sleep. “And then, I think we’re OK, knock on wood.”
Irma has toppled cranes, swallowed streets and left millions without power after wreaking a trail of death and destruction through the Caribbean.
The historic storm is so wide that authorities faced destructive storm surges on both coasts of Florida and the Keys as it follows a path north toward Georgia.
Burglary during a disaster
Police in Miami-Dade County said on Sunday they had made 29 arrests for looting and burglary.
“We’re on patrol and won’t tolerate criminal activity as our community recovers from Hurricane Irma,” it said on its twitter.
The storm and evacuation orders caused major disruption to transportation in the state that is a major tourist hub.
Thousands of flights were canceled.
Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday and will see if it can resume those operations on Tuesday.
Irma, which was expected to cause billions of dollars in damage to the third-most-populous US state, it hit just days after the Houston area was deluged by unprecedented flooding from Hurricane Harvey, which dumped more than 127cm of rain in parts of Texas.
Harvey killed at least 60 people and caused an estimated $180bn in property damage.
US President Donald Trump, acting at the governor’s request, approved a major disaster declaration for Florida on Sunday, freeing up emergency federal aid in response to Irma, which he called “some big monster”.
Source – Al Jazeera