President Trump approved a disaster declaration for Florida on Sunday, clearing the way for more support as Hurricane Irma slammed the state with powerful winds and storm surges.
The declaration authorizes the use of federal funds for the counties of Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas and Sarasota.
"Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a news release.
Hurricane Irma weakened to a Category 2 storm Sunday as it made its way across land, up the coast of southwest Florida.
The storm made its second landfall at Marco Island, near Naples, bearing blinding rains and sustained winds of 115 mph, gusting to 130 mph. Later, the National Hurricane Center reported that sustained winds had ebbed to 110 mph as the eye of the storm passed over Naples.
Still, the storm was likely to maintain hurricane strength at least through Monday, despite “significant weakening" over land, the center said.
Hurricane Irma made a second ferocious landfall near Naples on Sunday after inundating the low-lying Florida Keys, sending floodwaters surging into downtown Miami and menacing millions in Florida’s Gulf Coast cities where some had initially sought shelter from the storm.
As the fierce Category 3 storm tracked its way up Florida’s west coast, water was sucked from part of Tampa Bay, exposing a muddy expanse that would normally be underwater — a frightening portent of flooding to come when that water, and more, comes rushing back.
The cities bracketing the bay — Tampa and St. Petersburg, with a population of some 3 million people between them — were forecast to be clobbered later Sunday by sustained hurricane-force winds.
In St. Petersburg, Fla., poised to take a possible direct hit from Hurricane Irma, officials were bracing for the onslaught expected late Sunday.
The St. Petersburg police chief announced in a statement that a curfew would begin at 5 p.m., and Mayor Rick Kriseman warned that first responders would not be able to respond to emergency calls once winds reach more than 40 mph. Those services would "return when conditions are safe," Kriseman told the Los Angeles Times by phone. "All residents need to be off the roads and taking shelter."
Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's staff was busy relocating 1,000 inmates from the county jail.