The storm was downgraded to Category 1 but not before it pummeled central Florida, leaving destruction in its wake.

The crumpled canopy of a gas station damaged by Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Florida, US. September 10, 2017. (Reuters)
The crumpled canopy of a gas station damaged by Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs, Florida, US. September 10, 2017. (Reuters)

Hurricane Irma took aim at heavily-populated areas of central Florida on Monday as it carved a path of destruction through the state with high winds and storm surges. Millions were left without power as the storm ripped roofs off homes and flooded city streets.

Irma, once ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, killed at least 28 people as it raged westward through the Caribbean, devastating several islands en route to Florida as it worked its way up the state.

It weakened to a Category 1 hurricane overnight, carrying maximum sustained winds of about 135 kph by 0600 GMT (2:00 am ET) on Monday, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. 

The hurricane was churning northwest in the centre of the state near the Tampa and Orlando metro areas.

TRT World's Ediz Tiyansen reports. 

Waiting to assess damage

Many areas on both the state's east and west coasts remained vulnerable to storm surges, when hurricanes push ocean water dangerously over normal levels.

Florida Director of Emergency Management Bryan Koon said officials would wait until first light on Monday to begin rescue efforts and assess damage, adding he did not have yet any numbers on fatalities statewide, the Miami Herald reported.

On Sunday, Irma claimed its first US 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, local officials said.

TRT World's Christine Pirovolakis has more on the destruction that Irma has wreaked. 

On a scale of 1 to 5

Irma was ranked Category 5, the rare top-end of the scale of hurricane intensity, for days. 

The hurricane carried maximum sustained winds of up to 295 kph (183 miles per hour) when it crashed into Barbuda island on Wednesday. Its ferocity as it bore down on hurricane-prone Florida prompted one of the largest evacuations in US history.

Some 6.5 million people, about a third of the state's population, had been ordered to evacuate southern Florida. Residents fled to shelters, hotels or relatives in safer areas.

Many of the evacuation orders extended until at least Monday due in part to flooding, massive power outages and downed electric lines, leaving residents unable to return to their homes to survey any damage.

High winds snapped power lines and left about four million Florida homes and businesses without power in the state. Florida's economy represents about five percent of US gross domestic product.

Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through until at least Monday. The airport said in a Twitter post that after assessing damage, it would determine if flights could resume on Tuesday.

Irma was forecast to continue churning northward along Florida's Gulf Coast during Monday morning, further weakening along the way before diminishing to tropical-storm status over far northern Florida or southern Georgia later in the day.

It could dump as much as 63.5 cm (25 inches) of rain in parts of Florida and as much as 40.64 cm (16 inches) in parts of Georgia, prompting flash flood and mudslide warnings, the NHC said.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies