Three have died in two separate car crashes, while a fourth died of natural causes overnight in a shelter
Irma weakened to a Category 2 storm at about 5pm Sunday with winds of 110mph
Tornado warnings have been announced across Florida, particularly on the west side of the storm
Two cranes – of two dozen in the city – collapsed under intense wind pressure in Miami
Forecasts correctly predicted Irma would make first landfall over Lower Florida Keys on Sunday morning
It then made a second landfall on Marco Island near Naples at around 3.30pm on Sunday
Around 6.3 million people have been told to leave their homes in mandatory or voluntary evacuation orders
The storm has already claimed at least 25 lives across the Caribbean since it took hold earlier in the week
President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in the state of Florida on Sunday
Experts have warned that ‘catastrophic’ and ‘life threatening’ storm surges could reach up to 15ft
Hurricane Irma is currently hammering Fort Myers on the west coast of Florida after making landfall for the second time on Sunday afternoon as the deadly storm continues to move up the coastline.
Irma weakened to a Category 2 storm at about 5pm Sunday as it hugged the coastline moving north through Fort Myers.
The National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds were at 110 mph, just below major hurricane status, as the center of the still dangerous and wide storm moved farther inland late Sunday afternoon.
It was smacking Fort Myers and Naples after coming ashore for the second time in Marco Island at 3.35pm.
Areas of Naples are now suffering substantial flooding and swathes of the west coast – as well as lakes, bays and sounds nearby – are under 15ft storm surge warnings. The National Hurricane Center said water levels in Naples rose 7ft in just 90 minutes.
A wind gust of 142 mph was recorded at the Naples Municipal Airport as the storm kept its top sustained wind speed of 110 mph.
Irma should be moving directly over the Tampa Bay area around midnight.
‘Pray, pray for everybody in Florida,’ Governor Rick Scott said on Fox News Sunday.
As Irma continued its unprecedented assault on the state, two of the four victims claimed in Florida were identified.
Hardee County Sheriff’s deputy Julie Bridges, a mother of one, and Hardee Correctional Institute sergeant Joseph Ossman crashed and died on Sunday around 60 miles from Saratosa.
While the confirmed body count is currently just four, the suffering from Irma’s onslaught is much wider, with more than three million losing power and swathes of Miami – where two cranes were toppled – left flooded.
The Keys, which is where Irma first made landfall, are now the subject of a huge airborne relief mission.
President Donald Trump declared a major disaster in the state of Florida on Sunday, making federal aid available to people affected by Hurricane Irma in nine counties already hit by the storm.
As the hurricane moves up the west coast, experts have warned that there will be a negative surge of three or more feet, as water is pulled out into the sea, or into the centers of lakes, bays or sounds.
That might look like the hurricane is subsiding – but it’s just a prelude to the real surge, which will push huge amounts of water back towards the land.
A storm surge hit Naples at 4.35pm as the eye of the storm got closer to the city, with feet of water suddenly flowing onto streets. But that was a small pre-surge and not the full level. That kind of flooding is a risk on both sides of the state, but is particularly dangerous on the west coast.
Previous hurricanes have seen dozens killed after people ran out onto beaches to pick up newly stranded fish, only to be caught as the deadly waves flow back onto the helpless crowds.
There are longer-term threats, too, from sewage and other toxins being caught in the surge back onto land.
‘We’re going to be inundated with unprecedented amounts of water,’ Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Sunday.
‘It’s going to stress our storm water and sewer capacity. There’s going to be overflows. There’s no two ways around it.’
That in turn could lead to runoff being sent into Tampa Bay, which means dangers to public health as well as to structures.
Leakage from the radiation and toxins created by the state’s phosphorus mining industry – the largest in the nation – as well as from the 51 Superfund sites.
Those are largely old chemical or oil storage facilities that have poisoned groundwater over decades, and are among the most toxic places in the nation, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection said it would be testing groundwater as soon as it’s safe to do so after the storm. EPA said it will also be on the ground after the storm.
As the nation’s eyes turned to follow Irma up the west coast of Florida, the Keys began to take in the immensity of the damage done.
Florida responded with the launch of a massive airborne relief mission by Monroe County Emergency Management, whose director, Martin Senterfitt, called the damage done to the Keys a ‘humanitarian crisis.’
He promised disaster mortuary teams, as well as C-130 cargo planes, which United States Air Force special operations pilots are testing flights around the massive storm, the Miami Herald reported.
Also on the mission will be Air National Guard flights of more C-130s, backed up by squadrons of helicopters. They are expected to start arriving early Monday morning.
The first load will head to Florida Keys Marathon Airport. As it can handle about two C-130 planes at a time, the plan is to land two every two hours, keeping a steady flow of good.
‘The help is on its way,’ Senterfitt said on Sunday afternoon, adding: ‘We’re going to get more aid than we’ve ever seen in our lives.’
Bridges, 42, a 13-year veteran of the county force, had been collecting supplies to keep helping civilians when she collided with Ossman, 53, who had been going to work.
‘She worked the shelter all night and was going home to retrieve some more items and then go back to the shelter,’ Hardee County Sheriff Arnold Lanier told the Herald-Advocate.
The wreck was reported at 6:53am, having been found at the intersection of Old Crewsville Road and SR 66 in Zolfo Springs. No other vehicles or people were involved.
The Florida Highway Patrol is investigating the incident, and has not yet ruled whether the winds and rain caused by Irma at the time of the crash directly influenced the accident.
Bridges was a mother of an eight-year-old boy and a member of the sheriff’s Honor Guard. Ossman, meanwhile, had been working at the Hardee Correctional Institute for 21 years.
‘We are heartbroken by this loss, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and fellow officers at this time,’ Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told the Miami Herald.
They were not the only people to die amid the deluge.
Another man was killed after tropical-storm-strength winds caused him to lose control of the truck he was driving through Monroe County, which contains Key West. He had been carrying a generator, local officials told ABC News.
And an elderly man died of natural causes while sheltering in a school in the city of Marathon on the Keys, Larry Kahn, an editor for FlKeysNews.com, said.
‘He was staying in one of the classrooms,’ Khan explained. ‘Police came up, along with a couple of nurses who are here, actually, got everyone out of the room and sealed it off.’
Those deaths come after Irma claimed at least 25 lives in the Caribbean as it swept over several countries, destroying entire islands.
On Sunday afternoon Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced that the confirmed death toll on the Caribbean island of St Maarten had increased to four.
Donald Trump was briefed on Sunday about the path of Hurricane Irma and preparations made to respond to the storm by the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the White House said.
The president, who met with his cabinet at Camp David this weekend, also spoke to the governors of Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee as the hurricane path moved away from the lower Florida Keys westward to the Gulf Coast and states to the north.
Vice President Mike Pence and several members of Trump’s cabinet were set to visit FEMA headquarters on Sunday afternoon to talk with staff members who have been working there as well as agency officials, the White House said.
‘This Sunday morning please keep those impacted by #Irma in your hearts & prayers,’ the Vice President tweeted. ‘@POTUS, our team, & the American people are with you all.’
Governor Scott said on NBC that he spoke to President Donald Trump, and ‘everything I’ve asked out of the federal government, he’s made sure he gave us.’
Once the storm passes, ‘we’re going to need a lot of help,’ Scott warned. But he also described Florida as ‘a tough state. We’re going to come through this.’
Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said on Fox News Sunday: ‘Once this system passes through, it’s going to be a race to save lives and sustain lives.
SOURCE: Daily Mail