Riding out Hurricane Irma in Key West, Florida

Riding out Hurricane Irma in Key West, Florida

Riding out Hurricane Irma in Key West, Florida

Downgraded to a tropical storm that day, Irma had ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes before barrelling into the Florida Keys on Sunday and moving inland to wreak havoc across the third most populous U.S. state.

At its peak the storm prompted evacuation orders for 6.5mn people in Florida, the largest evacuation in modern United States history.

As Irma began moving into Georgia, a tornado spun off by the storm was reported on the coast, and firefighters inland had to rescue several people after trees fell on their homes.

Now a tropical storm with sustained winds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km per hour), Irma was located about 35 miles (56 km) west of Gainesville and headed up the Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said at 8 am ET (1200 GMT).

Hubert Baudoin, who has lived in the Keys for 30 years and owns two restaurants and a hotel, boarded up his properties to protect them from the storm and took shelter with a friend in a concrete shelter Mr. Baudoin built after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

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"This is going to be a frustrating event".

White House Homeland Security Advisor reports that Florida Keys residents will not be allowed to return to their houses for weeks, since restoring may take a long time.

The city of Jacksonville, in Florida's northeast, was recovering from heavy flooding.

"Power pretty much drives everything", Christopher Krebs, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security, told reporters.

Numerous gas stations along the route back to Florida are most likely not working any longer after Irma. "We have no cell service, no electricity, and no water", Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said.

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Major utilities in Florida - including NextEra Energy Inc's Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy Corp and Emera Inc's Tampa Electric - have mobilized tens of thousands of workers to deal with the enormous power outages after Hurricane Irma landed early Sunday.

Key West resident Laura Keeney was waiting in a Miami hotel until it was safe to return to the island chain and anxious to hear more about her apartment complex.

People have fled the Florida Keys region in about two dozen vehicles since Sunday.

So any criticism of Florida officials for taking the storm seriously and planning for all contingencies is misplaced.

Insured property losses in Florida from Irma were expected to run from $20bn to $40bn, catastrophe modeling firm AIR Worldwide estimated. So when the winds did their turn about 2 or 3 a.m. Monday morning, they weren't strong enough to cause the storm surge forecasters had predicted.

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However, the typhoon has been changing its course and does not seem to be completely predictable in the moment. Any downed trees and road washouts can lead to travel disruptions well after the storm leaves the area.

Katherine Heckler of Florida said, "we want to make sure that our gas tank is filled at all times". "As we rebuild, that will help GDP".

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