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Updated: 09/13/2017 10:48:52PM

Irma’s life and demise: 2 weeks of destruction and fear

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Tommy Nevitt carries Miranda Abbott, 6, through floodwater caused by Hurricane Irma on the west side of Jacksonville, Fla., Monday, Sept. 11 2017. (Dede Smith/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

A woman with her two children walk past debris left by Hurricane Irma in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. The storm ravaged such lush resort islands as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Anguilla. (AP Photo/Ricardo Arduengo)

View of the partially buildings destroyed by Irma during the visit of France's President Emmanuel Macron in the French Caribbean islands of St. Martin, Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. Macron is in the French-Dutch island of St. Martin, where 10 people were killed on the French side and four on the Dutch. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool)

This photo provided by Caribbean Buzz shows boats clustered together after Hurricane Irma Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. The death toll from Hurricane Irma has risen to 22 as the storm continues its destructive path through the Caribbean.
The dead include 11 on St. Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands and four in the British Virgin Islands. There was also one each in Barbuda, Anguilla, and Barbados. The toll is expected to rise as rescuers reach some of the hardest-hit areas. (Caribbean Buzz via AP)

Juan Antonio Higuey shows his destroyed home at Cold Bay community after the passage of Hurricane Irma, in St. Martin, Monday, September 11, 2017. Irma cut a path of devastation across the northern Caribbean, leaving thousands homeless after destroying buildings and uprooting trees. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

In this undated photo provided on Sunday Sept. 10, 2017, by the British Ministry of Defence, cars that have been turned to wrecks by Hurricane Irma on the British Virgin Islands. The wild isolation that made St. Barts, St. Martin, Anguilla and the Virgin Islands vacation paradises has turned them into cutoff, chaotic nightmares in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which left 22 people dead, mostly in the Leeward Islands. (MOD via AP)

This Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017 photo shows storm damage in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma on the British island of Anguilla. Irma weakened to Category 3 storm with 125 mph winds on Saturday, but will likely regain strength before slamming Florida. (Vanessa C Thompson via AP)

A rainbow over St Mary's Lighthouse near Whitley Bay, north eastern England, as Storm Aileen brings howling gusts and heavy showers to parts of the United Kingdom, Wednesday Sept. 13, 2017. Aileen is the first named storm of the season. (Owen Humphreys/PA via AP)

In this undated photo provided on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 by the British Ministry of Defence, Royal Marines deliver aid and provide support to the islanders of Jost Van Dkye, British Virgin Islands. The team helped to deliver essential aid utilising a small boat to support this isolated community of just 300 people. Britain sent a navy ship and almost 500 troops to the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and the Turks and Caicos islands. (MOD via AP)

Juan Negron, right, prepares to start up a power generator in front of whats left of his damaged property, after the passage of Hurricane Irma, in the island of Culebra, Puerto Rico, Thursday, Sept. 7, 2017. About a million people were without power in the U.S. territory after Irma passed just to the north, lashing the island with heavy wind and rain. Nearly 50,000 also were without water. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Supporters of former Presidential candidate Moise Jean-Charles from the Platform Pitit Dessalines party, chant ant-government slogans as they pass in from of the Lycée National de Petionville, after national police officers attempted to detain him in Delmas, a district of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Wednesday Sept. 13, 2017. Moise's attempted detention happened after the government claimed he had organized a violent protest in the capital city on Tuesday, against government tax hikes that will take in effect by October. (AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Lucita Leonce 71, complains in front of her home flooded by heavy rains brought on by Hurricane Irma, in Fort-Liberte, Haiti, Friday Sept. 8, 2017. Irma rolled past the Dominican Republic and Haiti and battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday with waves as high as 20 feet (6 meters). ( AP Photo/Dieu Nalio Chery)

Locals affected by Hurricane Irma line up to collect drinking water in Isabela de Sagua, Cuba, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. The powerful storm ripped roofs off houses, collapsed buildings and flooded hundreds of thousands of coastline after cutting a trail of destruction across the Caribbean. Cuban officials warned residents to watch for even more flooding over the next few days. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Mike Gilbert and his daughter Brook Gilbert, 15, stand over the remnants of a condominium building near Islamorada along the Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. His father has a unit in the building which collapsed during the storm surge from Hurricane Irma. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald via AP)

A man rides a bike in Key West, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017, after Hurricane Irma. Florida is cleaning up and embarking on rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, one of the most destructive hurricanes in its history. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)

Building owner Catharine Taylor Woods, front, and Jessica Newman, of the City of Wauchula clean up broke glass after an awning blew off in Hurricane Irma and broke several windows early Monday, Sept. 11, 2017, in Wauchula, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

FILE - This Sept. 10, 2017, file photo shows people walking on Old Tampa Bay, in Tampa, Fla. Hurricane Irma's devastating storm surge came with weird twists that scientists attribute to the storm's girth, path and some geographic quirks. They can explain why the highest water levels observed from Irma were in faraway corners, while places closer to the eye experienced a rare reverse surge. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)

Cherie Ethier sits in her mobile home with her pets surrounded by floodwater, in the Marco Naples RV Resort in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, in Naples, Fla., Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

A house slides into the Atlantic Ocean in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Monday, Sept. 11, 2017. (Gary Lloyd McCullough/The Florida Times-Union via AP)

People move through flooded streets in Havana after the passage of Hurricane Irma, in Cuba, Sunday, Sept. 10, 2017. The powerful storm ripped roofs off houses, collapsed buildings and flooded hundreds of miles of coastline after cutting a trail of destruction across the Caribbean. Cuban officials warned residents to watch for even more flooding over the next few days. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

The sun sets over the St Johns River near downtown Jacksonville, Fla. as flood waters still fill the streets after Hurricane Irma, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017. (Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP)


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WASHINGTON (AP) — Irma, which flattened some Caribbean islands and enveloped nearly all of Florida in its fury, no longer exists. The open Atlantic’s most powerful hurricane on record finally sputtered out as an ordinary rainstorm over Ohio and Indiana.

Irma’s confirmed death toll is 61 and still rising, 38 in the Caribbean and 23 in the United States. In the U.S. alone, nearly 7 million people were told to evacuate, and 13 million Floridians were left without power in hot steamy weather.

This storm grew so immensely powerful over warmer-than-normal Atlantic water that it devastated the first islands in its path. Its gargantuan size — two Hurricane Andrews could fit inside it — spread so much fear that people all over the Florida peninsula upended their lives to flee.

“This was a large, extremely dangerous catastrophic hurricane,” National Hurricane Center spokesman and meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said Wednesday, when he declared the storm over.

Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach put it simpler: “Irma was a beast.”

Irma generated as much accumulated energy in a dozen days as an entire six-month hurricane season would in an average year, Klotzbach calculated.

Just 30 hours after it became a tropical storm on Aug. 30, Irma was a major Category 3 hurricane. By Sept. 4 it had intensified into a Category 4, with 130 mph (210 kph) winds, and it wasn’t near done.

It became a Category 5 storm the next day with top winds of 185 mph (nearly 300 kph), the highest ever recorded in the open Atlantic. Only one storm whirled faster — Hurricane Allen reached 190 mph (305 kph) in 1980 over the normally warm Gulf of Mexico — but Irma held its ferociously high speeds for 37 hours, a new global record for tropical cyclones. It beat Typhoon Haiyan, which also reached 185 mph (nearly 300 kph) before killing more than 6,000 people in the Philippines. Irma ultimately spent 78 hours as a Category 5, the longest in 85 years for Atlantic hurricanes.

Irma’s entire path, from its birth off Africa to its death over the Ohio Valley, stayed within the cone of the probable track forecast by the National Hurricane Center.

Irma claimed its first victim when it was still far off, sending a “monster wave” to drown a teen-aged surfer in Barbados. Then it hit the Leeward Islands in full fury, sweeping a 2-year-old boy to his death after tearing the roof from his home.

Irma bullied through much of the Caribbean — Antigua, St. Martin, St. Barts, Anguilla, the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, the Bahamas. It narrowly skirted Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It turned lush tropical playgrounds into blasted-out landscapes, littered with splintered lumber, crumpled sheet metal and shattered lives. In St. Martin, 15 people were killed.

Irma was still a Category 5 when it raked Cuba’s coast, the first hurricane that size to hit the storm-prone island since 1924. At least 10 people died there, despite massive evacuations. And by moving briefly over land, it may have spared Florida a tougher punch.

More importantly, the system slowed, delaying its turn north and steering its center over Florida’s west coast, which is less populated and less densely developed than the east. It also allowed dry air and high winds from the southwest to flow into Irma, taking a bite out of the storm and even tearing the southwest eyewall apart for a while.

Irma was more vulnerable, but by no means weak. A Category 4 storm with 130 (210 kph) winds when it slammed into Cudjoe Key, it tied for history’s seventh strongest hurricane to make U.S. landfall, based on its central pressure. With Harvey’s swamping of Texas, this is the first year two Category 4 storms hit the United States.

The Keys were devastated. Federal officials estimated that a quarter of the homes were destroyed, and hardly any escaped damage. Roofs seemed peeled off by can-openers; power poles were nowhere to be seen.

Irma was back over water as it closed in on mainland Florida, weakening still but spreading much wider — to more than 400 miles (640 kilometers) in girth — whipping the entire peninsula with winds of 39 mph (62 kph) or more. It pushed its highest storm surge, 10 feet (more than 3 meters), onto Florida’s southwestern coast, while causing some of its worst flooding in northeast Florida, Georgia and South Carolina, far from Irma’s center.

Irma’s second U.S. landfall was on Marco Island, near where Wilma hit in 2005. By then, Irma was a still-major Category 3, with 115 mph (185 kph) winds, but weakening fast. The worst of its fury somehow missed the Tampa Bay area, where homes were not nearly as flooded as those in faraway Jacksonville. Irma then sloshed through Georgia and Alabama as a tropical storm, blowing down tall trees and power lines, before dissipating Tuesday over Tennessee and Ohio.


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