Hurricane Irma nears populated Tampa region

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.  — Hurricane Irma nears populated Tampa region

Hurricane Irma remains a dangerous Category 2 hurricane despite weakening a bit more to 100 mph (160 kph). It’s now bearing down on the Tampa-St. Petersburg region.

The National Hurricane Center says Irma’s eye is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Tampa and moving at a fast clip of 14 mph (22 kph). Still a large hurricane, its tropical storm force winds extend out 415 miles (665 kilometers).

Forecasters say they expert Irma’s center to stay inland over Florida and then move into Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

They also expect Irma to weaken further into a tropical storm over far northern Florida or southern Georgia on Monday as it speeds up its forward motion. The hurricane center says the storm is still life-threatening with dangerous storm surge, wind and heavy rains.

A third construction crane has toppled in Florida in the powerful winds of Hurricane Irma.

Officials say it happened at a project on Fort Lauderdale beach during the storm Sunday.

Officials with developer The Related Group told the Sun-Sentinel the crane collapse caused no injuries and did not appear to damage anything else.

Two other cranes toppled earlier in Miami as Irma swirled up the state.

Miami International Airport has announced it will be closed Monday and begin only limited flights on Tuesday.

Orlando International Airport closed Saturday and won’t reopen to passenger traffic until after Hurricane Irma has passed, a damage assessment has been completed, necessary recovery efforts made and the airlines are consulted to determine when best to resume operations.

Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport says on its website it has no timetable yet to reopen. Its last flights were Friday.

Tampa International Airport also is closed as Hurricane Irma moves up the Florida peninsula.

Airlines are preparing their recovery schedules, which may take several days to execute.

Florida officials are urging people to stay in their homes and shelters, even if it looks like Hurricane Irma has passed.

Miami-Dade County spokesman Mike Hernandez said he’s seen reports of people leaving the county’s hurricane shelters. It’s too early for that, he says: “Just because it seems like the weather is clearing up, that doesn’t mean it’s safe to get out on the roads.

Miami Dade remains under curfew, much of it without electricity, and with downed power  lines, flooding and poor visibility, moving around could be deadly.

President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in the state of Florida, making federal aid available to people affected by Hurricane Irma in nine counties already hit by the storm.

The federal help includes temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover in the counties of Charlotte, Collier, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pinellas, and Sarasota.

Federal funding also is available to governments and non-profit organizations for emergencies in all 67 Florida counties. For the first 30 days, that money will cover 100 percent of the costs of some emergency responses.

The Lee County Sheriff’s Office says water began leaking through the roof at the Germain Arena shelter in Estero just as the eye of Hurricane Irma drew near.

Thousands of evacuees have crowded into the minor-league hockey stadium, which seats about 8,400 people and is being used as a shelter.

The sheriff’s office posted on Facebook that authorities are monitoring the problem.

An airborne relief mission is bringing emergency supplies to the Florida Keys, where Hurricane Irma made landfall Sunday morning.

Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said help is coming in C-130 cargo planes and other air resources.

Monroe County Emergency Management Director Martin Senterfitt calls it a humanitarian crisis.

Hurricane Irma should be moving directly over the Tampa Bay area around midnight. Residents of the highly populated area are fearing the worst.

A report by CoreLogic, the global property data firm, found nearly 455,000 Tampa Bay homes could be damaged by storm surges, the most of any major US metro area other than Miami and New York. Rebuilding those homes could cost $81 billion.

The reason Tampa Bay is so vulnerable is that the bay acts as a funnel for storm surges, forcing water into narrow channels with nowhere else to go.