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Irma Recovery Begins; Storm Flooded Parts Of Florida, South Carolina And Georgia

Hurricane Irma dumped water on towns and covered oceanside streets with sand in several states. Here, Amela Desanto walks on the sand-covered road along Fort Lauderdale Beach on Monday, as the storm headed inland.
Andrew Innerarity
For The Washington Post/Getty Images
Hurricane Irma dumped water on towns and covered oceanside streets with sand in several states. Here, Amela Desanto walks on the sand-covered road along Fort Lauderdale Beach on Monday, as the storm headed inland.

Updated at 7:30 p.m. ET

As millions of Florida residents begin to assess damage left by Hurricane Irma, people in Georgia and South Carolina are also struggling to cope with heavy flooding and power outages in coastal areas.

Some 4.7 million Florida homes and businesses — close to half the state's electricity customers — were without electricity, along with nearly 846,000 customers in Georgia, about 122,000 in South Carolina and thousands more in Alabama.

Irma was a post-tropical cyclone with top winds of only 10 mph as of 11 a.m. ET — a far cry from the Category 4 storm that ravaged the Florida Keys on Sunday.

The storm has killed at least 55 people, The Associated Press reports: 11 died on the U.S. mainland, including 12 people in Florida, two in Georgia and two in South Carolina; at least 35 people died in the Caribbean.

Moody's Analytics estimates the economic cost of Hurricane Irma to be from $64 billion to $92 billion, a tally that includes both property damage and lost economic output.

Details about Irma's destruction, and the effort to recover from it, are still emerging. Here are the stories we're seeing about a storm that prompted mass evacuations and caused floods as its winds attacked trees and buildings:



All Florida highways are now open — if vehicle owners can find gas, officials said Tuesday. To get the state's gas and fuel supply flowing again, the state is working with the Coast Guard and the Army Corps of Engineers to open ports to gas tankers, Gov. Rick Scott said.

The U.S. Navy has sent several ships near the Florida Keys, including the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, to lend personnel and supplies to the relief effort being led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To aid the recovery effort, a convoy of 180 FEMA trucks was set to head to Florida from Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala., which serves as a staging hub for the federal agency.

Miami International Airport has resumed passenger and cargo flights, saying it will have a limited schedule on Tuesday. The first arrival was an American Airlines flight from Seattle that landed at 7:06 a.m. ET.

Miami Beach lacked power, but all of its causeways were reopened Tuesday morning.

People in the Keys who fled Irma have been waiting for a chance to see how their homes and businesses fared during the storm. They've been unable to return because of blocked roads and safety checks on bridges. On Tuesday morning, though, residents of the upper Keys, including Key Largo, Tavernier and Islamorada, were being allowed to drive home.

Key West was hit hard; here's an update from member station WLRN's Nancy Klingener:

"Life in Key West, at least for those of us who escaped major structural or water damage, has acquired a provisional ad hoc quality. It's like we've been transported to the pre-digital, pre-cellphone era. In fact, it's the pre-telephone era for most of us.

"So information — that commodity that used to be instantly available from that phone in your pocket — it's suddenly a scarce resource. ...

"I have to show up where I hope someone will be, then write it down on paper and use that old standby word of mouth to get the information out. Like: The water will be on from 10 to 12 tomorrow so we can all shower and flush."

NPR's Kirk Siegler reports:

"We're starting to get a sense that there's going to be a huge humanitarian mission there. There are estimates of up to about 10,000 people who didn't evacuate — and they're going to have to be evacuated off the island at some point."

In Jacksonville, near the Georgia border, Irma left record flooding in its wake. The sheriff's office reported rescuing 356 people.


"Gov. Nathan Deal has expanded the state of emergency to include all counties in Georgia," Georgia Public Broadcasting reported as Irma hit the state Monday. "State government offices will be closed Monday and Tuesday except for essential personnel."

The station says coastal areas, including Savannah, Tybee Island and Brunswick, were under a storm surge warning of 4-6 feet. In Savannah, stately oaks were toppled — but local bar Pinkie Masters was serving thirsty customers after opening at 1:30 p.m., Savannah Now reports.

Flooding hit neighboring Tybee Island hard, covering neighborhoods with deep water and cutting off the island from Savannah.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports: "The storm surge reached 4.7 feet. A king tide, as it's known colloquially, is an especially high tide that coincides with a full moon. Unfortunately, it also coincided with Irma, and the storm surge combined with the tide resulted in swells of up to 15 feet."

Floodwaters are standing on parts of St. Simons Island, where many have also reported no electricity.

"Have not seen Georgia Power yet, but we know they're coming," Buff Leavy of the Brunswick News said in a video report Tuesday morning.

South Carolina

"Incredible flooding going on in Downtown Charleston," the National Weather Service said on Monday afternoon.

"At its height, the storm generated a nearly 10-foot tide," the Post and Courier reports. "That was 4 feet more than normal and among the worst tidal surges in 80 years after Hugo in 1989 and a storm in 1940. It was about 8 inches higher than last year's Hurricane Matthew."

The waters were so high in nearby Folly Beach that they freed a famous local landmark — a boat that had been deposited along a road by Hurricane Hugo in 1989, and which had become a popular canvas for graffiti art. It came to rest against a dock whose owner managed to tie a line to it.

Other coastal areas, including Hilton Head and Beaufort, also saw flooding. And at Edisto Beach, which has struggled to rebuild after Hurricane Matthew hit it hard last October, the ocean once again pushed past the dunes and onto surface streets.

On Tuesday morning, more than a dozen South Carolina counties were either closed or opening on a delay to allow employees to deal with the storm's aftermath.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.