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Hurricane Irma: Florida launches huge relief operation

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Media captionStrong winds and rain have been battering Florida

Relief operations are under way in Florida, as the extent of the damage from Hurricane Irma becomes clear.

More than 6.5m homes - two-thirds 62% of the state - are without power. Many parts of the state have been flooded

The islands of the Florida Keys and western parts of the state bore the brunt of Irma - which hit the state as a category four hurricane on Sunday before weakening to a tropical storm.

Media reports link at least four deaths to the storm in the Florida.

It cut a devastating track across Caribbean islands, killing at least 37 people there.

Florida Governor Rick Scott said it was "going to take some time" before people could return to their homes, the Miami Herald website reports.

Speaking as he went on an aerial tour of the Keys to survey the damage early on Monday, he said: "Power lines are down throughout the state. We've got roads that are impassable, so everybody's got to be patient as we work through this."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Before and after in Brickell, Miami

All eyes on the Keys

By Jane O'Brien, BBC News, Miami

Miami dodged a bullet by and large. The eye of the storm did not hit the city but it did wallop the Florida Keys, of course, and that is where the concern is now.

Communications were pretty bad even on Friday. A number of people who had fled the Keys and checked into our hotel were struggling to keep in touch with relatives who had decided to stay behind.

Reports say that 10,000 people decided to ride out the storm. We do not know what state they are in now.

The first job rescue services will have to do is to test the integrity of the 42 bridges linking the Keys. If one of those is down, it could cause problems because it could strand any one of the islands.

The entire Keys are closed. There is no way of getting in there at the moment while the authorities assess the damage.

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Media captionHow badly did Irma hit the Florida Keys?

How big will the disaster response be?

Although Miami was spared the brunt of the storm, large parts of the city are under water. Winds have snapped power lines and 72% of homes there are without electricity, officials say.

On the west coast of Florida, drone footage from Naples, a town on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico about 125 miles (200km) to the north-west, shows rows of shattered suburban homes on streets under water.

President Donald Trump has released emergency federal aid for Florida, describing the hurricane as a "big monster".

Funds will be needed to care for victims, clean up debris, restore power, and repair damage to homes and businesses.

Martin Senterfitt, emergency management director for Monroe County, said a huge airborne mission was in the works, the Miami Herald reports.

"Disaster mortuary teams", he said on Sunday, would be dispatched to the Keys, which are part of Monroe.

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Image caption A number of fatal car crashes in Florida are being linked to the storm

Where is the storm now?

At 12:00 GMT, the centre of the storm was about 105 miles (170km) north of Tampa, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

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Image caption Before and after in Bonita Springs, Florida

Some three million people live in the Tampa Bay area. The region has not been hit by a major hurricane since 1921.

Irma made landfall on Marco Island off Florida's west coast at 15:35 local time (19:35 GMT) on Sunday, with winds of up to 120mph.

How have residents felt the impact?

"We feel the building swaying all the time," restaurant owner Deme Lomas told Reuters news agency by phone from his 35th-floor apartment in Miami.

At least four deaths have been connected to the storm:

  • Two police officers died when their vehicles collided in Hardee County in central Florida
  • A person died in a single-car crash near Orlando
  • A man died in the town of Marathon in the Florida Keys when his vehicle hit a tree on Saturday
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Media captionLooters caught on camera in Miami

Some 6.3 million people in the state were told to evacuate before Irma arrived.

There is major disruption to transport, with Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and Miami International Airport closed for Monday.

Curfews have been imposed areas such as in Miami, where 13 people were arrested on suspicion of looting.

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Media captionAmateur footage shows flooding in central Miami

Which areas were hit before Florida?

Irma is the most powerful Atlantic storm in a decade, and caused widespread destruction on several Caribbean islands:

  • Cuba: at least 10 people were killed by the storm on the island, officials say. Electricity is out across the capital, Havana
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Image caption Parts of the Cuban capital Havana are under water
  • St Martin and St Barthelemy: Six out of 10 homes on St Martin, an island shared between France and the Netherlands, are now uninhabitable, French officials say. They said nine people had died and seven were missing in the French territories, while four are known to have died in Dutch Sint-Maarten
  • Turks and Caicos Islands: Widespread damage, although extent unclear
  • Barbuda: The small island is said to be "barely habitable", with 95% of the buildings damaged. Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne estimates reconstruction will cost $100m (£80m). One death has been confirmed
  • Anguilla: Extensive damage with one person confirmed dead
  • Puerto Rico: More than 6,000 residents of the US territory are in shelters and many more without power. At least three people have died
  • British Virgin Islands: Widespread damage reported, and five dead
  • US Virgin Islands: Damage to infrastructure was said to be widespread, with four deaths confirmed
  • Haiti and the Dominican Republic: Both battered by the storm, but neither had as much damage as initially feared
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Media captionIrma continues to affect Florida

Another hurricane, Jose, has been weakening over the western Atlantic, with swells due to affect parts of Hispaniola (the island split into Haiti and the Dominican Republic), the Bahamas, and the Turks and Caicos Islands, later this week.

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