After the winds die, a massive recovery effort in Florida

Weakened but dangerous Irma lashes Florida with wind, rain

Early on Sunday morning, as Hurricane Irma began its assault on Florida, residents huddled in shelters, waiting for updates on the storm's progress.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami confirmed the storm's northern eyewall had reached the United States on Sunday morning just hours after it was upgraded to a Category 4 storm.

The new course threatened everything from Tampa Bay's bustling twin cities of Tampa and St. Petersburg to Naples' mansion- and yacht-lined canals, Sun City Center's retirement homes, and Sanibel Island's shell-filled beaches.

Irma, which has killed at least 22 people in the Caribbean, was likely to inflict billions of dollars in damage in the third largest USA state by population.

Forecasters warned of storm surge as high as 15 feet (4.5 meters).

As Irma's hurricane-force winds started to whip the Florida Keys, the storm stayed at a weakened 120 miles per hour (190 kph) and took slow aim at Florida. Some Caribbean islands already hit by Irma were bracing for another storm, Hurricane Jose, on Saturday.

More than 1 million residents had already lost power by Sunday morning, and it could be days before officials can provide food and water to those struggling in the aftermath of the powerful storm.

The Miami metro area could still get pounded with life-threatening hurricane winds.

Irma comes just days after Hurricane Harvey dumped record-setting rain in Texas, causing one of the costliest natural disasters in United States history.

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Irma's winds were down considerably from its peak of 185 miles per hour (300 kph) earlier in the week.

More than 2,000 flights in and out of Florida were canceled on Saturday, according to tracking service FlightAware.com, and ground transport was scrambled by millions fleeing for safety. In wind-buffeted downtown Miami, one of two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline broke with a loud crack atop a high-rise. In a text message to a reporter, she said: 'We are good so far'.

"Just left the island and said goodbye to everything I own", the 62-year-old Ball said. If the center of the storm keeps moving over warm Gulf of Mexico water, it may regain more strength before making landfall again. They then expect it to travel inland over northern Florida and southwestern Georgia Monday afternoon.

Rob Miller, a meteorologist at AccuWeather Inc.in State College, Pennsylvania, said a track "near or just to the west is nearly, if not, a worst-case scenario for Tampa Bay", said "It shoves all the water into Tampa Bay and then shoves it right into downtown".

After skirting north of both Puerto Rico and the island of Hispaniola, shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, Irma closed in on the central Cuban coast, making landfall near idyllic barrier islands where all-inclusive hotels serve foreign tourists.

The storm killed 24 people as it cut through the Caribbean, devastating swaths of the north coast of Cuba Saturday.

People walked through ankle-deep water in Caibarien, a fishing town where streets were flooded and covered in seaweed.

In a Facebook post early Sunday, Key West Police urged people who stayed for the hurricane to remain where they took shelter until the storm had passed completely. Palm Beach County had more than 40,000 outages. Almost 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to evacuate, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

That was the case for Chris Cardona, 54, and his wife Laurie, who left their mobile home near Miami on Thursday to seek refuge with friends near Tampa.

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