MIAMI, Fla. – Irma has been downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm, with winds of 70 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.
The storm is expected to further weaken as it continues to move inland.
However, experts say that many communities across Florida were already affected by the power of the storm.
Millions of people from coast to coast in Florida are waking up without power Monday as Hurricane Irma rumbles north, spurring slashing gusts of wind, pounding rain and perilous storm surge.
As dawn approached, mayors and emergency responders across the state implored citizens to stay in place and not to venture outside until crews can assess damage and give the all-clear that it’s safe to leave their homes.
The storm left more than 5.7 million customers without power and littered the state with downed trees, downed power lines and standing water. Emergency crews made rescues throughout the night.
The storm is plowing into Georgia and others parts of the Deep South — Alabama, Tennessee and the Carolinas — bringing the danger of life-threatening storm surge and hazardous winds.
“We’re asking folks to be patient and remain sheltered in place,” said St. Augustine Fire Chief Carlos Aviles.
“Stay off the roads, stay off the streets, let us complete our assessment, clear the roads of water, power lines, trees and then you can get out there and determine what happened to your individual property or your neighborhood,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler.
According to the National Hurricane Center’s 5 a.m. advisory, Irma was downgraded to a Category 1 storm, still a monster despite the weakening.
With sustained winds of 75 mph and its center 60 miles north of Tampa, Irma is moving across the northern half of Florida’s peninsula.
The hurricane hit southwest Florida on Sunday, battering the state’s lower half and leaving a trail of tornadoes and storm-surge flooding as its core slowly moved inland.
The massive storm triggered evacuation orders for 5.6 million people before it made two landfalls in the state Sunday.
The first one was over the Florida Keys, which Irma hit as a Category 4 hurricane. The second one, in Marco Island, was a Category 3 that left the island without water and power, authorities said.
“It’s the worst storm I’ve ever seen,” said Bill South, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration tropical weather program meteorologist.
Millions face ripping winds
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.
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 much of the state planned to close Monday.
In Alabama, some city school districts including Birmingham, Huntsville and Auburn planned to close Monday and in some cases Tuesday.
Before it weakened and headed to the United States, Irma hit Cuba’s Ciego de Avila province late Friday as a Category 5 hurricane.
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.