As a mighty hurricane, Irma inspired fear. As a tropical storm, it is spreading soggy distress — and continuing peril — across a growing swath of the American Southeast.
In what could be a long and messy afterlife, it will tax the patience of millions.
On Monday, a day after visiting lashing rains, surging tides and terrifying winds on nearly every corner of Florida, Irma unleashed flash flooding in three states and left a sweaty, disruptive legacy: no power for about 7 million people.
Confronting a panorama of destruction stretching from coast to coast, with rescue efforts still in progress and a massive cleanup only beginning to gather pace, Florida and federal officials opted for frankness: It might take weeks for electricity to be fully restored.
The storm’s direct death toll, mercifully, was not commensurate with Irma’s wrath. Authorities in Georgia on Monday reported three storm-related deaths, without providing details, and one person died in South Carolina. An electrocution was reported in central Florida — a grim hazard in flooding’s aftermath. Irma is being blamed for 34 deaths in the Caribbean before it hit Florida, according to the Associated Press.
With power cut for about 6.5 million Floridians and hundreds of thousands of others in Georgia and South Carolina, restoring electricity was an urgent priority, but authorities warned that the fixes wouldn’t happen overnight.
In recorded history, the U.S. mainland had never before suffered two Category 4 hurricanes in the span of a year, never mind a little over two weeks. Coming on the heels of Hurricane Harvey’s devastation in Texas, Irma was expected to be one of the country’s most expensive weather disasters.
But on Monday, major insurers were revising estimates downward, though they were still expected to run in the tens of billions of dollars.
Still, as the storm left Florida behind, the danger lingered: Storm surges jeopardized cities along the state’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts, and the National Hurricane Center said Irma was still spinning off 60-mph winds as it moved into Georgia on Monday afternoon.
In Jacksonville, Fla., water poured rapidly into downtown streets, with the St. Johns River hitting flood levels not seen in decades.
“Get out NOW,” the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office tweeted in a warning to people in evacuation zones. It advised those who needed help escaping flooded homes to visibly display something white — a shirt or a pillowcase.
Downtown Charleston, S.C., too was hit by heavy storm flooding, and communities in coastal Georgia were swamped as well.
With Irma’s reach spreading over hundreds of miles, Alabama battened down; schools and businesses closed across the state. In Georgia, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was still open Monday, but thousands of flights have been canceled.
Although the storm’s raging winds and punishing rains lent it an apocalyptic feel as it unfolded in Florida over the weekend, damage initially appeared significant and widespread, but short of catastrophic.
That was true even in the Florida Keys, where Irma made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane. Gov. Rick Scott, who flew in with the Coast Guard plane, said he saw “devastation” — roofs ripped away, boats tossed ashore, mobile homes overturned — but “it’s not as bad as we thought.”
Still he cautioned, “It’s going to be a long road; there’s a lot of damage.”
Eleventh-hour shifts in Irma’s trajectory undoubtedly saved both lives and property. Last week, while the storm was roaring through the Caribbean, where it devastated a chain of small islands, one projected track had it aiming straight for Miami, Florida’s biggest city. But it veered westward instead.
On Sunday, still at hurricane strength, Irma appeared set for a direct strike on the highly built-up Gulf Coast region of Tampa-St. Petersburg, but it tacked east-northeast instead, losing strength as it moved over land.
Experts say the number of deaths and amount of damage that can be expected from a storm of that strength have been reduced in recent years by advances in forecasting, which enable authorities to order people out of harm’s way, and stricter building standards that help fortify the sorts of large public venues where people seek shelter — even if smaller wooden structures remain vulnerable.
While the seas to Florida’s west bent to Irma’s will, receding and then rising, the National Hurricane Center also warned of “significant river flooding” for the next five days along the storm track. Gov. Scott called that flood threat the storm’s most dangerous aftermath.
On Monday, just outside Orlando, hundreds of homes were ordered emptied as floodwaters rose, and firefighters staged boat rescues for some. Another classic Florida hazard struck nearby: A 60-foot sinkhole abruptly gaped at the base of an apartment building, which was hastily evacuated. No injuries were reported.
Not all damage has yet been chronicled. Except for rescuers and suppliers, the Florida Keys were mainly unreachable by the single 42-bridge highway linking them, although a flotilla of boats was making its way.
The Navy said it was sending in four vessels, including the aircraft carrier Lincoln, to provide emergency services in the Keys.
Coast Guard and naval helicopters buzzed over the low-lying island chain, making aerial assessments. Units of the Florida National Guard and other personnel were deployed for the cleanup, bringing bulldozers and other heavy equipment with them.
In Florida City, the gateway to the Keys, frustration mounted among those who wanted to go back home after obeying orders to get out.
Trailer homes at the Sea Breeze trailer park in the Florida Keys town of Islamorada were destroyed by Irma.
(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Tom Ross inspects the damage to his three-story condominium building in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The remains of a boat in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Brooke Gilbert, 15, and her father, Mike Gilbert, look at the ruins of her grandparents’ condominium building in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Laura Gilbert retrieves the mailbox from her father’s condominium in Islamorada after it was swept away during the storm.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Sand and debris block access to trailer homes in Islamorada.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Greg Garner embraces neighbor Linda Nettles in front of his longtime family home that lost part of its roof after Tropical Storm Irma hit Sullivan’s Island, S.C.(Mic Smith / Associated Press)
Overturned trailer homes Sept. 11 in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma over the Florida Keys.(Matt McClain / Pool Photo)
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma is seen from the air Sept. 11 over the Florida Keys.(Matt McClain / Pool Photo)
The aftermath of Hurricane Irma is seen from the air Sept. 11 over the Florida Keys.(Matt McClain / Pool Photo)
Israel Alvarado, 25, tries to open a gate blocked by fallen tree branches to retrieve a generator in Bonita Springs.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Rescue workers help a couple evacuate their flooded home in Jacksonville.(John Raoux / Associated Press)
Charlotte Glaze, left gives Donna Lamb a hug as she floats out some of her belongings in floodwaters in Jacksonville,.(Dede Smith / Associated Press)
Ron Colby, 70, leaves his flooded Bonita Springs home after staying during Hurricane Irma. He said he was OK with the wind but that at 3:30 in the morning the water started to rise.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A dresser floats by Gilberto Diaz in his Bonita Springs neighborhood. Originally from Guatemala, Diaz has lived in Florida since 1994.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
In Bonita Springs, floodwaters reached waist deep in some areas on Monday, flooding homes and cars.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A block from the ocean in Naples, the water was still a foot deep from storm surge. Homeowner Terry Clontz put up a “no wake” sign because people were driving by too fast, pushing water farther onto his property.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Floodwaters surround a marina in Key Largo on Monday following Hurricane Irma.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Mobile homes in Key Largo, Fla., lie in ruins on Monday after Hurricane Irma.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Floodwaters surround Gilbert’s Resort in Key Largo on Monday.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Kelly McClenthen returns to see the flood damage to her home with her boyfriend, Daniel Harrison, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Fla.(Gerald Herbert / Associated Press)
Terry Thompson is relieved. He rode out the storm in his home in Riverwood Estates in Naples. Although the Naples area of Florida was hit hard by Hurricane Irma, damage wasn’t nearly as bad as anticipated.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A woman leaves her flooded home the morning after Hurricane Irma swept through the area in Fort Myers, Florida.(Spencer Platt / Getty Images)
People tend to a car that flipped over on Cape Coral Parkway during Hurricane Irma, in Cape Coral.(Gerald Herbert / AP)
A man clears the drain next to his house in Estero, Fla., during the lull in winds as the eye of the hurricane passes over.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Evacuees use flashlights so others can maneuver around the stairway at Hampton Inn and Suites in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Guests gather in the lobby of Hampton Inn and Suites in Estero, Fla., to watch the hurricane gusts.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Darla Talia Ferro, 40, and her two parakeets ride out Hurricane Irma in the lobby of Hampton Inn and Suites in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
John Krowzow, 74, wades in floodwater to check out his homes in Corkscrew Woodlands, a park with 640 senior mobile home units in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Peter Moodley wades through floodwater in downtown Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Two men walk through a downed tree as Hurricane Irma’s full force strikes Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A woman films the damage from a house whose roof was blown off near downtown Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A vehicle drives through debris caused by Hurricane Irma, in Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Weather reporters in downtown Miami jump and cling on to illustrate the force of the winds caused by Hurricane Irma.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Weather reporters do a stand-up as the force of the winds caused by Hurricane Irma hit Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A cargo truck is tipped over by the wind caused by Hurricane Irma in Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Storm surge floods the Brickell neighborhood of Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Streets are empty in downtown Miami as the wind picks up speed during Hurricane Irma’s approach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Maria Koenig, 63, of Estero, Fla., and her dog, Baeley, sit by the window at their Estero hotel so Maria can keep an eye on the storm on Sunday.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Glen Sinatra, 69, from Naples, says he feels lucky to be at a hotel in Estero instead of a shelter. He’s nervous about the storm and says he’s trying not to worry his children about the conditions.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Jimmy Alfano, of Ft. Myers, holds onto Alec Hoskins who is autistic, while watching the storm gusts through the window of their Estero hotel with Frank Pairs.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A car sits abandoned in storm surge along North Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard as Hurricane Irma hits the southern part of the state.(Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
The metal canopy at a gasoline station is overturned by high winds brought on by Hurricane Irma.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)
Youssef Ezzou, left, and Fadel Beznbachir roam outside to check out the conditions in Miami as Hurricane Irma nears the mainland.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A construction crane whose arm broke off towers over a building as high wind blows through downtown Miami on Sunday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A man and woman run to safety in Miami as winds from Hurricane Irma bear down on Sunday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Storefronts in Miami are damaged as Hurricane Irma’s winds hit Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Hurricane Irma arrives at the Boynton Beach inlet.(Jim Rassol / Sun Sentinel)
Dustin Terkoski, Palm Bay Police officer surveys the scene after a possible tornado touched down at Palm Pam Bay Estates.(Red Huber / Orlando Sentinel)
A man braces against the wind by the Miami River on Sunday as water levels surge.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A man stands by the Miami River as the water level surges on Sunday.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The waves on the Miami River begin to surge Sunday as winds pick up speed upon Hurricane Irma’s approach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Brian Williams, of Maryland, fights the winds in downtown Fort Myers.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Trees fall as winds pick up speed early Sunday as Hurricane Irma approaches Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
A TV reporter braces against the wind as Hurricane Irma approaches Miami.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
The outer bands of Hurricane Irma start to reach Florida on Saturday, with clouds over the Miami skyline.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images )
People wade through a flooded street in Havana after Hurricane Irma battered central Cuba.(YAMIL LAGE / AFP/Getty Images)
Thousands wait Saturday to enter a storm shelter set up at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla., south of Fort Myers.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Jean Turner, 79, waits to get into a shelter with a few of her belongings as rain begins to fall Saturday in Estero, Fla.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Sherri Bourdo, 32, and Anthony Guidry, 40, look out over the water in Naples, Fla, in advance of the arrival of Hurricane Irma.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Lisette Toroella and Tatiana Morera play on the beach as storm clouds approach in Miami Beach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Adam Todd, does a handstand while skateboarding down a virtually empty Ocean Drive in Miami Beach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
Abby Jenkins walks against the wind with her luggage and umbrella to get to safety, in Miami Beach.(Marcus Yam / Los Angeles Times)
James Sampero surfs in the churning ocean as Hurricane Irma approaches.(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
Cubans wade through the rubble from a collapsed building in Havana on Saturday.(Yamil Lage / AFP/Getty Images)
A woman and child use a blanket as protection from wind and rain as they walk in Caibarien, Cuba. Hurricane Irma battered Cuba on Saturday with deafening winds and unremitting rain, pushing seawater inland and flooding homes before turning toward Florida.(Desmond Boylan / Associated Press)
Annette Davis plays with her son Darius, 3, while staying at a shelter in Miami on Saturday after evacuating from their home in Florida City ahead of Hurricane Irma.(David Goldman / Associated Press)
Residents walk through rain brought on by Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Cuba. The powerful storm battered Cuba on Saturday and continued its march toward Florida.(Desmond Boylan / Associated Press)
Palmetto Ridge High School is a shelter for people with special needs near Naples, Fla. Many seniors plan to ride out the storm there.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Francesca DeLuca, age 20, will be waiting for 10 hours for her flight back to Milan, Italy. She had been visiting a friend in Miami by herself, but the area where she was staying is under mandatory evacuation. At Miami International Airport, the last flights will be this afternoon with the airport closing tonight at 6pm. Most travelers are taking flights to anywhere they can find.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Boats that can’t be evacuated are tied off in canals to protect them from Hurricane Irma on in Key Largo, Florida. The entire Florida Keys are under a mandatory evacuation notice as Hurricane Irma approaches the low-lying chain of islands south of Miami.(Marc Serota / Getty Images)
Hundreds wait in line on Friday at Home Depot in Miami to get supplies line sheets of plywood, and anything else they can find, to board up their homes. Police were on the scene to keep things orderly.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
A Royal Logistics Corps Mexeflote approaches Sandy Bay Village beach in Anguilla loaded with British army trucks, multiterrain vehicles, generators and other equipment on Friday. French, British and Dutch military authorities rushed aid to a devastated string of Caribbean islands Thursday after Hurricane Irma left at least 11 people dead and thousands homeless.(Royal Navy )
In the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, Fritz Drinks, whose family is from Haiti, helps load sandbags at Little Haiti Hardware and Lumber. Many people in the area are refusing to evacuate in advance of Hurricane Irma.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
In downtowm Miaimi, people wait to get on a bus headed to Orlando under a mandatory evacution plan. Preparations are underway for Hurricane Irma as the storm makes its way toward Florida.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Stores are boarded up in Miami Beach in advance of Hurricane Irma.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Preparations for Hurricane Irma are underway in Miami Beach as the storm makes its way toward Florida.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Genaro Dacosta, 65, of Miami Beach loads sandbags in advance of Hurricane Irma. He says he can’t evacuate the area because he has a monkey.(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
An aerial photograph taken and released by the Dutch Department of Defense on Wednesday shows damage from Hurricane Irma in Philipsburg, St. Maarten.(Gerben van Es / AFP/Getty Images)
Juan Negron, third from left, prepares to start up a power generator in front of what’s left of his damaged property in Culebra, Puerto Rico, after the passage of Hurricane Irma.(Carlos Giusti / Associated Press)
Residents come out to survey the damage caused by Hurricane Irma in Nagua, Dominican Republic.(Tatiana Fernandez / Associated Press)
People on Thursday look over damage from Hurricane Irma on a sand-covered street of Marigot, near the Bay of Nettle, on the island of St. Maarten.(Lionel Chamoiseau / AFP/Getty Images)
Inmate trustees from the Brevard County Jail fill sandbags for Meritt Island, Fla., residents in advance of Hurricane Irma.(Brian Blanco / Getty Images)
Motorists leave Key Largo, Fla., ahead of Hurricane Irma.(Alan Diaz / Associated Press)
“I’m sorry I ever agreed to evacuate,” said Warren Stincer, a boat captain and carpenter from Key Largo. “My home is just 20 minutes down the road, and I know the road is clear.”
Joe Sanchez, spokesman for the Florida Highway Patrol, said the road would remain closed to all but emergency crews until authorities determined it was safe.
President Trump expressed resolve in the face of the twin hurricanes, even if his administration is skeptical of climate changes that scientists say are contributing to increasingly violent weather.
At a Pentagon ceremony commemorating the Sept. 11 attacks of 16 years ago, Trump pledged support for those afflicted by the storms in Florida and Texas.
“These are storms of catastrophic severity, and we are marshaling the full resources of the federal government to help our fellow Americans,” the president said.
As Monday dawned, many people headed out to check on damage despite officials’ warnings of continued hazards, including high waters, downed power lines and sewage-tainted floodwaters.
At the Riverwood Estates mobile home park in Naples, on the Gulf Coast, Terry Thompson, 65, was among those surveying what the storm had wrought. He rode out the storm with his dog in his mobile home, which he’d moved into only two weeks earlier.
His neighbor’s carport roof had flown off and smacked into his wife’s car, and tree branches and debris littered the streets of the complex.
“There’s a lot of cleanup,” he said. But his car and boat were intact.
After making landfall early Sunday in the Keys, the storm spent Sunday chewing and churning its way up much of the Gulf Coast, but also paralyzing Miami, the normally buzzing metropolis on the other side of the peninsula. Most people were trapped indoors all day by wind and rain while floodwaters rose in downtown streets.
On Monday, the city looked bedraggled, but the sun was shining. Still, authorities were asking people to stay indoors, and many businesses remained shuttered.
Miami International Airport, the scene of a frantic exodus in the days before the storm struck, said it would be closed Monday, with limited flights beginning Tuesday. Hundreds of flights were canceled over the weekend. The airport’s director, Emilio Gonzalez, tweeted that the airport, hit by gusts of nearly 100 mph, “sustained significant water damage throughout.”
Staff writer Halper reported from Marco Island and staff writer King from Washington. Staff writer Patrick McConnell contributed from Florida City and staff writer John Cherwa from Orlando.
7 p.m.: This story has been updated throughout with additional deaths and other details.
5:30 p.m.: This story was updated with two more deaths, one in Georgia and one in South Carolina.
1:15 p.m.: This story was updated with two deaths, details about flooding in Jacksonville and Charleston, comment from White House and Gov. Rick Scott, frustrated homeowners turned back from the Florida Keys, other details.
10:45 a.m.: This story was updated with flooding in Charleston, S.C., flights canceled at Atlanta airport, damage assessments in Florida Keys, 6 million in Florida without power, other details.
9:05 a.m.: This article was updated with storm’s new position and strength, comment from President Trump, other details.
This article was originally published at 7:15 a.m.