Packing winds of 130 mph, Hurricane Irma blasted Florida over the weekend, first making landfall in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm. The storm made a second landfall hours later as a Category 3 storm on Marco Island, a city and barrier island off Florida’s southwest coast, before weakening again.
The storm is threatening other parts of the Southeast, after it caused at least 26 deaths in the Caribbean. Here is what to expect from Irma:
Where the storm is going next
Irma is moving up through Florida Monday morning, said CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward. The storm will weaken as it travels over land. The storm’s eye will move through southern Georgia by Monday afternoon. There is the potential for hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph in northern Florida and southern Georgia, Ward said, and tropical-storm-force winds of least 35 mph will be felt in the Atlanta metropolitan area later.
By late Monday, the storm will reach northern Alabama but the impact will be felt well in advance because of the its size, Ward said. There is also the threat of tornadoes in southeast Georgia and coastal South Carolina, Ward said.
The storm is expected to move on to western Tennessee by late Tuesday, Ward said.
“While the worst is over for southern Florida, the flood and wind threat will continue for portions of northern Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Southern Carolina,” he said.
In Georgia, a state of emergency now includes 159 counties. Tropical storm watches are in effect Monday and Tuesday in Atlanta. Some school districts in Georgia and Alabama are closed through Tuesday. South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster issued a mandatory evacuation for some barrier islands.
Impact on trains and planes
Miami International Airport will be closed Monday after it suffered “significant water damage throughout,” according to Emilio T. Gonzalez, the airport’s aviation director and CEO. Operations will resume on a limited basis on Tuesday.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, which closed Sunday, has not said when it would reopen.
Tallahassee Airport will resume commercial flights Monday evening, after Irma caused several cancellations over the weekend.
In metro Atlanta, MARTA suspended its bus and rail service on Monday ahead of the storm.
Irma preparations and evacuations drained gas stations in Florida. By Sunday, about 57% of gas stations in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and 63% of stations in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area were without fuel, according to estimates from the crowdsourcing platform GasBuddy.
The gas shortage worsened because of panic-buying last week. Many Florida residents, not knowing where the storm was headed, rushed to fill their tanks ahead of Irma’s landfall. Harvey also disrupted fuel deliveries to Florida and other markets last month, knocking out swaths of the Gulf Coast’s oil refineries.
The gas shortage will likely linger and could get worse before it gets better, said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy
DeHaan said it will take several days for ports to reopen, barges to be unloaded and for fuel to be delivered to gas stations. And evacuees will be likely to return soon.
“That will add more strain to an already strained system,” DeHaan said.
“It’s been a double whammy,” he added. “You have Hurricane Irma and now the headache is going to be gone soon. But the other one will linger.”
Curfews are still in place in several communities, including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, until further notice. In Palm Beach County, police arrested 43 people after the curfew took effect on Saturday.
Possibly more power outages
Nearly 4 million customers were without power Sunday evening in Florida, including customers in the Tampa and Orlando areas, according to three Florida utility companies. More outages could likely occur as the storm continues to move north.
“We think this could be the most challenging restoration in the history of the US,” said Chris McGrath, a spokesman for Florida Power & Light.
The company had estimated 3.4 million of its customers could be without power at some point during Irma, making it the company’s largest number of outages ever.
Crews are mobilized and on alert with utility companies in other states, including Georgia and Alabama.
Police and first responders who stopped responding to emergencies during the storm will likely resume operations under safer conditions. Meanwhile, thousands of military personnel have responded to relief efforts, including Army National Guard soldiers in Florida and South Carolina.
And the Louisiana Cajun Navy, the famous volunteer rescue group that formed after Hurricane Katrina, is joining the recovery efforts.
About 100 boats were bound for Florida on Sunday, with stops planned in Tampa, said Gary Davis, the Cajun Navy’s operations manager. Davis said 1,000 members of the Cajun Navy will help with relief efforts Texas, Louisiana and Georgia as well.
Relief is also coming from the federal government.
President Donald Trump on Sunday approved a request from Florida for a disaster declaration ordering federal aid to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts. On Friday, the President also signed $15 billion in emergency funding for hurricane relief.
The threat of the storm — and urging from officials — encouraged many residents to evacuate, clogging roadways. One woman who evacuated her North Naples, Florida, home left the same message for Irma that she left for Hurricane Wilma 12 years ago.
Gina Fischer wrote “Irma go away!” on the windows of her boarded-up home, three blocks from the Gulf of Mexico.
Irma sent water gushing through streets when it made landfall. It lifted boats, uprooted trees, and collapsed cranes in Miami. Miami-Dade County Public Schools also closed schools until further notice, in part because officials said they can’t inspect schools or make necessary repairs. Monday will begin the piecing together of the full picture of Irma’s trail of destruction — a trail that is still being carved as the storm moves north.
In Orange County, authorities highlighted the death of one driver on Sunday as evidence of how dangerous road conditions continue to be.
This is the first time on record that the continental United States has experienced two Category 4 hurricane landfalls in the same year. Last month, Hurricane Harvey devastated much of coastal Texas, flooded Houston and killed more than 70 people.