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Hurricane Irma was barrelling through Florida today, leaving at least five people dead and causing billions of pounds worth of damage.
The nearly 400-mile-wide storm thundered up the sunshine state, lashing the Gulf Coast and leaving as many as four million people without power as the 100mph winds and destructive storm surges caused havoc, ripping roofs from homes and flooding entire neighbourhoods.
The National Hurricane Centre said water levels in Naples — one of the wealthiest cities in the US with the nation’s second highest proportion of millionaires — rose 7ft in just 90 minutes.
But as America began to count the cost of one of the worst hurricane seasons in living memory, President Trump said Florida may have dodged a bullet.
Labelling the hurricane “some big monster”, he said “we may have been a little bit lucky” after Irma veered from its original course and headed close to Florida’s west coast instead of east.
“It will cost a lot of money but right now we’re worried about lives, not costs,” added the President after returning to the White House from Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland where he spent the weekend monitoring the storm.
“It’s going to play out over the next five or six hours,” said Mr Trump, who was accompanied on his return by his wife Melania.
Last night, he approved a Florida Disaster Declaration, making federal funds available for residents in affected areas and said that he plans to visit Florida “very soon”.
The final cost of rebuilding in Florida is expected to far outstrip the $15.3 billion (£11.6 billion) set aside to aid victims of Hurricane Harvey, which tore through Texas just three weeks ago.
Irma dropped hurricane categories from a 4 to a 1 and was continuing to weaken as it sped past the Tampa and St Petersburg regions this morning. The more time the storm stays over land, the quicker it weakens.
The huge storm triggered evacuation orders for 5.6 million people, and made two landfalls yesterday.
The first was over the Florida Keys, which Irma hit as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds near 130mph. The second one hit Marco Island, leaving the entire island without water and power.
It whipped through Florida’s lower half, leaving a trail of tornadoes and floods as its core slowly made its way inland. Orlando, 35 miles inland, found itself in the cross hairs.
Disney World closed down as a precaution and Orlando, Miami, Tampa and Fort Lauderdale airports all closed, deciding to wait it out until the storm had completely passed.
“We’re going to be inundated with unprecedented amounts of water,” Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. “It’s going to stress our storm water and sewer capacity.
“There’s going to be overflows. There’s no two ways around it,” he added.
An overnight curfew was imposed in Miami to stop looters taking advantage of the countless coastal homes and businesses abandoned as residents fled before the storm hit. At least 32 people have already been arrested, 28 of them in Miami.
Two robbers were involved in a stand-off with police after breaking into an empty gun store in Orlando, and a teenager was shot after trying to loot a mansion in Fort Lauder-dale.
There was some confusion after the White House social media director Dan Scavino tweeted a photo supposedly showing flooding at Miami International Airport. After airport executives responded by saying the photo was fake, Mr Scavino deleted the message.
At least 26 deaths have been blamed on Irma in the Caribbean, where the hurricane hit before barrelling towards Florida.
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