Hurricane Irma caused major flooding in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, about 30 miles north of Miami. 

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Hurricane Irma Strikes Florida

A major hurricane forces millions of people in Florida to flee their homes. 

Hurricane Irma hit the southern tip of Florida early Sunday morning. The storm then spun north through Florida and into Georgia. The powerful storm first came ashore in southern Florida with wind speeds of more than 130 miles per hour and has dumped more than a foot of rain in some areas. It flooded streets, damaged buildings, and left more than 6.5 million people in Florida without power. Millions of Floridians had to flee their homes.

Before reaching Florida, Hurricane Irma left a path of destruction in the northern Caribbean islands, in the Atlantic Ocean. It shredded buildings and killed at least 27 people on Barbuda, Anguilla, the Virgin Islands, and other islands. Thousands more were left homeless and without food and water. It could take years for these islands to recover.

Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm as it made its way through Florida. Tropical storms are less powerful than hurricanes. Still, the storm caused widespread flooding as far north as Charleston, South Carolina.

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Irma's path as of Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Destructive Storm

Hurricanes form as circular storms over the ocean. They are measured by wind speed on a scale of 1 to 5. Category 1 is the weakest, with steady winds of 74 to 95 miles per hour. Category 5 is the strongest, with steady winds of 157 miles per hour or more.

Hurricane Irma was a Category 5 storm when it reached the Caribbean. It was one of the most powerful hurricanes ever in the Atlantic Ocean. At one point it had steady winds of 185 miles per hour.

The hurricane struck Florida as a Category 4 storm. It hit the islands of the Florida Keys and the city of Naples hard. At least 12 people in the U.S. died in the storm, though that number may climb.

The storm continued to lose strength as it moved inland. However, storm surges still flooded coastal areas. Storm surges occur when ocean waters are pushed inland by strong winds. Surges of more than 12 feet were reported in some parts of Florida. 

Escaping the Storm

Floridians had several days’ warning before Irma’s arrival on Sunday. More than 6.5 million people were urged to evacuate (move away from a dangerous place) the coastal areas at greatest risk of flooding. That figure represents almost a third of the state’s population. Many packed up vehicles and moved inland. More than 75,000 people have hunkered down inside buildings, such as schools and churches, which have been converted into public storm shelters. It was one of the largest evacuations in U.S. history.

President Donald Trump declared emergencies for Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. This announcement makes more government funds available to support rebuilding.

“When the time comes, we will restore, recover, and rebuild together as Americans,” the president said in a video statement. “America stands united, and I mean united.” 


A flooded street in Havana, Cuba, after Hurricane Irma tore through the Caribbean island nation

Sign of Storms to Come?

Irma continues a busy 2017 hurricane season, which usually lasts from June until the end of November. This storm follows Hurricane Harvey, which just two weeks ago left large sections of Houston, Texas, underwater. Both hurricanes hit the U.S. mainland with steady winds of more than 110 miles per hour.

Research by climate scientists has predicted that warming oceans and air temperatures would contribute to making storms more powerful. The average global temperature on Earth has been rising. This occurrence is called global warming. Scientists caution that one hurricane or even one hurricane season cannot be taken as proof of the effects of global warming. However, the power of these storms is fueling concern that normal weather patterns are changing. 

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