Washington, Sep 11 (IANS) Hurricane Irma on Monday weakened to a Category 1 storm with top sustained winds of 120km/h battering Florida with continued hurricane-force winds, torrential rain and unsafe storm surges, leaving almost six million without power.
Irma, which prompted one of the largest evacuations in United States history, was a Category 4 hurricane about 20 miles (30 km) east-southeast of Key West, Florida, as of 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the NHC reported.
Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least on Monday.
First Irma slammed into the Florida Keys Sunday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, ripping roofs off of mobile homes and littering roads with debris. On Saturday morning, Governor Rick Scott issued an incredibly urgent warning to people in the Gulf Coast that they have to get out.
John Huston, who stayed in his Key Largo home, watched his yard flood.
Hurricane Irma has been downgraded to Tropical Storm Irma, but that doesn't mean it didn't do plenty of damage while at the height of its power.
"I've heard there's some significant damage, right where the eye of the storm hit", Scott told NBC's "Today" show.
"What we really fear more than anything is that storm surge", Buckhorn told CNN's Anderson Cooper on Sunday. Cities flooded, power lines were downed and trees were uprooted across the state. Gov. Miami Beach barred outsiders from the island.
Much of the state's east and west coasts remained vulnerable on Monday to storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels.
Numerous hurricane warnings and watches are in effect, including the Tampa Bay region and all of south Florida. A storm surge of more than 10 feet of water was recorded in part of the Keys, and similar flooding was expected on the mainland.
"Once this system passes through, it's going to be a race to save lives and sustain lives", Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said on "Fox News Sunday".
Irma is now losing strength, the NHC says.
Maximum sustained winds of 160 km per hour, and gusts of 213 km per hour, knocked down trees, lamp posts and even ripped some park benches from the ground.
The barrier islands in the southern part of the state could be under 4 to 6 feet of water from Irma's surge as the hurricane moves a couple of hundred miles to the east, officials said.
Earlier in the day, Irma executed a westward swing toward Florida's Gulf coast that appeared to spare the Miami metropolitan area of the catastrophic direct hit that forecasters had been warning of for days.
Hurricane force winds are expected to continue this morning across south Florida as Irma moves northward.
Five tornadoes were reported in Florida on Sunday, causing damage to several structures but there were no indications of anyone being seriously injured, the National Weather Service said.