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Irma weakens, but continues rampage up Florida’s Gulf Coast

The St Petersburg News.Net - Tuesday 12th September, 2017

FLORIDA, U.S. - As Irma continued its rampage up Florida’s Gulf Coast on Monday, it lost some its punch but still threatened danger, pushing swelling seas towards Tampa Bay area. 

The storm continued to bring storm surges and torrential downpours, but early on Monday, the National Hurricane Center said the storm weakened from hurricane to a tropical storm as it moved about 100 miles north of Tampa.

The National Hurricane Center said that Irma was still producing some wind gusts near hurricane force.

According to forecasters, Irma is expected to continue losing force as its headed inland, and it should be a tropical depression by Tuesday afternoon. 

Despite weakening, Irma has maintained a remarkable reach, with hurricane-force winds extending 60 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds reaching more than 400 miles.

On Sunday, the storm battered Florida’s southern tip with devastating fury, flattening homes, flooding the Keys and leaving over 6 million customers across the state without power. 

On Monday, the storm diminished to a Category 1 hurricane and then to a tropical storm.

Several cities and suburbs around Tampa faced storm surges up to six feet above high tide.

The National Hurricane Center said storm-surge warnings could remain in effect for Tampa and other areas for days as Irma churns up the gulf.

By Monday afternoon, the storm was headed toward the Florida Panhandle, before crossing into Georgia and on to Alabama.

Meanwhile, on Monday, Delta Air Lines canceled about 800 flights from its hub operations in Atlanta in anticipation of “strong crosswinds,” which could reverberate through the air travel system across the coutnry.

Despite weakening, officials warned that Irma’s force still has the potential for flash floods and staggering rainfall. 

Forecasters are expecting up to 15 inches of rain in some areas of the Panhandle and southern Georgia.

As the day progressed, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the city was spared “a punch in the face” as Irma swung farther to the west. 

He added that emergency teams were deployed to keep people off the streets “when that surge comes.”

On Sunday, officials said that there were shelters open in 64 of Florida’s 67 counties and a total of 573 shelters across the state, holding 155,000 people. 

By Monday morning, Florida emergency officials said that over 6.2 million customers were without power - which is about 62 percent of the state’s customers.

The storm headed for Georgia, the city of Atlanta, and more than 600 miles north of the place where Irma first hit the mainland - with all of the regions placed under its first tropical-storm warning.

On Sunday, President Donald Trump signed a disaster declaration that should speed federal funding to damaged areas in Florida.

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