Hurricane Irma weakens to Category 1 storm, heads north with wind, rain

Hurricane Irma hits the Florida coast on September 10, 2017. Skies darken and rain batters Miami, Florida.

Hurricane Irma weakened to a Category 1 storm early Monday after it whipped through southwest Florida and left nearly 4 million customers without power.

Irma was downgraded as it moved over the western Florida peninsula, the National Hurricane Center said. By 2 a.m. ET, it had sustained winds of 85 mph with its center 25 miles northeast of Tampa.

“Strong winds and flash flooding still a major risk with the storm as it moves into north Florida and toward Georgia over the next 24 hours,” the center said.

Hurricane Irma hit southwest Florida on Sunday, downing power lines, uprooting trees and turning streets into rivers. It battered Florida’s lower half, leaving a trail of tornadoes and storm-surge flooding as its core slowly made its way inland.

“The center of Irma will continue to move over the western Florida peninsula through Monday morning and then into the southeastern United States late Monday and Tuesday,” the National Hurricane Center said.

The massive storm triggered evacuation orders for 5.6 million people, and made two landfalls Sunday.

The first one was over the Florida Keys, which Irma hit as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds near 130 miles per hour. The second one hit Marco Island, leaving the entire island without water and power, authorities said.

“We’re all hanging in there, ready to get out there to help others as soon as it’s safe to do so,” Marco Island Police Chief Al Schettino said as the storm pounded his city Sunday.

The latest developments:

— In Miami-Dade County, police said they arrested 28 people for burglary and looting.

— Strong winds blowing from the northeast have pushed water out of shallow parts of bays and harbors in cities like Tampa and Port Charlotte. “As soon as the wind shifts direction, the water will come back quickly and continue to move inland,” CNN meteorologist Judson Jones said.

— Two tornadoes touched down in Brevard County, Florida, destroying mobile homes in their path, officials said. No injuries have been reported.

— Nearly 4 million electric customers are without power across Florida, according to utility companies.

— At least 26 deaths have been blamed on Irma in the Caribbean islands, where it hit before barreling toward Florida.

Other cities face Irma’s wrath

Gusts topping 90 mph whipped Miami on Sunday, knocking out power to more than 750,000 customers in the Miami-Dade area.

Flying objects such as coconuts turned into dangerous projectiles. And at least two construction cranes partially collapsed. One swung vigorously over downtown Miami. Another dangled over the city’s Edgewater neighborhood.

Matthew Spuler captured video of waves crashing over a seawall toward his downtown high-rise building.

“There is no seawall whatsoever,” Spuler said. “It’s amazing. It’s under water.”

Antonio Wilson stayed in his 16th-floor condo in Miami, watching the waters rise below.

“Everything is flooded,” he said. “I’m literally stuck.”

‘You can’t survive these storm surges’

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Irma’s wrath is unprecedented, warning that storm surges could be deadly.

“You can’t survive these storm surges,” he said.

In Florida and southern Georgia, more than 8 million people face hurricane-force winds topping 74 mph, said Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics.

Those who did not evacuate ahead of the storm are in danger, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long said Saturday.

“You’re on your own until we can actually get in there and it’s safe,” he told CNN.

Other states may be affected

As Irma moves inland, more than 45 million people will face tropical storm conditions — meaning winds will top 39 mph, Maue said. Affected states include Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina.

South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a mandatory evacuation for some barrier islands.

The National Weather Service in Atlanta issued a tropical storm watch for the area Monday and Tuesday. Schools in the state planned to close Monday.

Irma hit Cuba’s Ciego de Avila province late Friday as a Category 5 hurricane before it weakened and headed to the United States.

This is the first year on record that the continental United States has had two Category 4 hurricane landfalls in the same year.

Last month, Hurricane Harvey devastated much of coastal Texas and killed more than 70 people.