(CN) —Tropical Storm Irma trudged into Georgia on Monday after leaving more than 6 million without power in Florida, as governors throughout the South declared emergencies in their states and cities like Jacksonville saw record storm-surge flooding.
Living up to the fearsome predictions, Irma bore down on Tampa and its 3 million residents early Monday. With governors declaring states of emergency as far away as North Carolina, Floridians under curfew in Naples and Fort Myers braced for worse yet to come. The storm’s winds, rotating counterclockwise, are expected to change directions behind the eye, pushing billions of gallons of Gulf waters onto the streets.
Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm by midday Monday, but its effects were still being felt after the storm left the Sunshine State.
Irma killed at least 36 in the Caribbean islands, where violence and looting have broken out as people have been left without housing, food and water.
In Florida more than 6.5 million homes and businesses already are without electricity as Irma, now downgraded to a tropical storm, blanketed the state and plowed north toward Jacksonville and the Georgia and Alabama coasts. More than 200,000 people were ordered to evacuate low-lying areas in Jacksonville, on the Atlantic coast, where trees were already topping Sunday night. Courts and schools across the state are closed, and school has been canceled at least until Wednesday in Birmingham, Alabama.
More than a foot of rain was recorded in cities throughout southwest Florida, and Irma also spun off tornadoes. Miami International Airport suffered some damage and was expected to be closed all day Monday.
The mayor of Miami Beach asked residents not to try to return Monday, as live power lines were down.
Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said there is widespread damage and power loss in the area, including about 300,000 residents in Orlando without electricity.
Naples recorded wind gusts of 142 mph, according to the National Weather Service.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Monday morning it’s still too dangerous for Floridians to go outside or return from evacuation. He told Fox News he’s concerned about flooding in Jackonsville and damage in the Florida Keys.
The National Weather Service said storm-surge flooding in Jacksonville broke a record set in 1965 during Hurricane Dora. Officials there warned residents not to drive through standing water, noting flooding and downed trees and power lines.
Jacksonville’s St. Johns river was 5.3 feet above sea level Monday morning, more than a foot above the previous record. Memorial Park downtown was underwater by the afternoon.
In Georgia, 500,000 people were ordered to evacuate the Gulf Coast, and the governor declared a state of emergency for the entire state, as did governors of Alabama and South and North Carolina.
An Atlanta airport official said more than 800 flights have been canceled due to the threat of Irma, but the airport will still be open Monday and will monitor storm conditions.
Atlanta’s transit system also suspended all bus and rail services Monday.
Some court and schools systems are also closed in the Atlanta area due to the storm.
In Savannah, Ga., most were without power Monday as tree branches covered the roads and police patrolled the city. A number of restaurants, including a Waffle House, were open for business.
More than 40,000 people were ordered to evacuate barrier islands along the southern coast of South Carolina. The storm surge there could reach up to 6 feet. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph are expected and tornadoes are also possible.
Charleston saw extensive flooding Monday, as the ocean reached its third-highest level of 10 feet, only behind the surge from Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and a 1940 hurricane. About 60,000 customers were without power in Charleston County.
The latest forecasts show Irma taking a bend toward the northwest, and proceeding along the Georgia-Alabama line toward Tennessee.
If there is any consolation amid the widespread destruction, Hurricane Jose, now a Category 3 storm, following behind Irma, is expected to stall northeast of the Bahamas, meander around and, forecasters are predicting, eventually head northeast — away from the heavily populated East Coast.
(Courthouse News reporters Amanda St. Germain reported from Jacksonville, Fla., Marilyn Aciego from Orlando, Jackie Holness from Atlanta, Eva Fedderly from Savannah, Ga., and Tracey Dalzell Walsh from Birmingham, Alabama. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.)