Hurricane Irma has been a rollercoaster ride in Florida, with initial warnings that the level of destruction across the Sunshine State could be unlike anything the U.S. has ever seen from a natural disaster. Then by Sunday evening, much of the state felt like that they had dodged a bullet, suffering only moderate damage from a hurricane that had been significantly downgraded.
But by Monday the effects of heavy rainfall and storm surges had turned Florida and some of the regions north of it into a nightmare scenario again. And by Tuesday, early reports began the reveal the extent of the damaged caused by the biggest Atlantic hurricane on record.
Naples was hit hard, seeing up to a foot of rain dumped on top of a 7-foot storm surge. The city also found itself hit hard by wind speeds over 140 mph, according to ABC News. Residents who rode out the storm on nearby Marco Island, just off the coast of the Everglades, felt lucky to be alive in the aftermath.
In Tampa, while the major said his city “survived pretty well,” some communities were still saturated by floodwaters, according to the New York Times. Further north in Jacksonville, the downtown area saw much more serious flooding. Residents in the coastal city of Charleston, South Carolina found themselves wading through deep water after severe flooding there, according to the Weather Channel.
Outside Irma’s full fury, Miami still saw significant damage from severe winds. At least seven people died from the storm in Florida. Further north, three people died as the Irma moved into Georgia, and another two people died in South Carolina. Millions of people are still without power Tuesday afternoon, including some customers in North Carolina and Alabama.
But the worst hit area of Florida may have been the Keys, which have been cut off from the rest of the continent by damage to Highway 1, according to CNN. Structures have been destroyed, streets are littered with debris, airports, and hospitals are closed, and harbors are too dangerous to navigate due to the amount of wreckage and unmoored boats drifting around.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration meteorologist Bill South was hunkered down in a Key West bunker and said, "It's the worst storm I've ever seen."
In the city of Marathon, closer to the mainland than Key West, Councilman John Bartus wrote on Facebook, "PLEASE — don't try to return to the Keys until you get an official okay. The first responders and crews on the scene are adamant that the Keys cannot handle any more people until they can assist the ones who are there and in need."
North and South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee are expected to experience heavy rainfall throughout the day on Tuesday as post-tropical cyclone Irma moves north through the region, according to ABC News.
Please pray for first responders and residents as they make sure everyone is safe and put their lives back together. Meanwhile in the British Virgin Islands, catastrophic storm damage has led to severe civil unrest.