Florida hit by power cuts as storm Irma weakens

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"Based on Hurricane Irma's current track, we expect all of our Florida service area to feel the effects of this powerful storm", said Luis Ordaz, Duke Energy Florida storm director. It will weaken slowly in the coming hours and will likely become a tropical depression on Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said. It swamped homes, uprooted massive trees, flooded streets, cast boats ashore, snapped miles of power lines and toppled construction cranes. A hurricane watch was in place from the Georgia border north to Edisto Beach. Affected states include Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. Motorists are evacuating for the anticipated arrival of Hurricane Irma.

By 5 p.m., the storm was hitting Fort Myers, moving north toward low-lying, vulnerable Tampa as a still-potent Category 2 storm.

With about 3 million people, the Tampa Bay metropolitan area is the second-most populous in the state.

Chief Susan Loeffler with The DeKalb County Emergency Management Center said they are keeping an eye on the storm and will open shelters as needed.

A significant storm surge is expected from Cape Sable on Florida's southern tip, up along the west coast to Tampa, with water levels possibly reaching 8 feet, said Michael Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center.

Helen Conklin carries sandbags as her husband, John Conklin, loads the auto at Lealman Community Park, 3890 55th Ave.

Up and down the wide, sandy beaches of Pinellas County are traditional "old Florida" waterfront hotels such as the Don Cesar, a coral pink 1920s hotel on St. Pete Beach, which was closed by the storm.

Irma hit Florida on Sunday morning as a risky Category 4 storm, the second highest level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, but by afternoon as it barreled up the west coast, it weakened to a Category 2 with maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour (177 kph).

"What we feared the most was the surge", he said on MSNBC.

Hurricane Jose looked a little ragged on Monday morning but still had winds of 105 miles per hour. Gonzalez tweeted earlier in the day that gusts of 94 miles per hour were recorded there.

"What happened was the storm continued - after interacting with Cuba - to move west-northwest", Jones said.

On Sunday, Irma claimed its first USA fatality - a man found dead in a pickup truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds in the town of Marathon, in the Florida Keys.

Greater rainfall, from six to 10 inches, is forecast in the Lowcountry, with a possibility of tornadoes there, too.

As of Friday afternoon, Disney World in Orlando announced that it would be closing Sunday and Monday.

Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is open, but many flights have been canceled.