Georgia scales back Irma highway flow plan

Despite Threat Some Choosing to Ride Out Hurricane Irma at Home

Recovery operations are beginning around Florida and beyond even as the weakening storm system continues to dump heavy rains around the South in states including Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.

Irma flooded portions of River Street in the tourist magnet city of Savannah, Georgia and forced police to temporarily shut Highway 80 leading to the barrier island community of Tybee Island.

Irma, which hit just days after the Houston area was deluged by unprecedented flooding in Texas from Hurricane Harvey, was expected to cause billions of dollars in damage to the third-most-populous US state.

The hurricane's wrath in the Sunshine State extended the full length of the state and reached from the west coast to the east.

Scott Hagen, director of the Center for Coastal Resiliency at Louisiana State University, said there is a "gee whiz" element to the phenomena.

In harder-hit areas of the state, emergency responders were still in rescue mode, fielding calls from people stranded in cars or in houses with structural damage.

Around the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, where Irma rolled through early Monday, damage appeared modest.

More than 120 homes are being evacuated in Orange County, just outside Orlando, as floodwaters from Hurricane Irma started to pour in.

Irma has left more than 20 people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, ravaging such resort islands as St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Thomas, Barbuda and Antigua.

Tom Bossert says while Irma's category of strength may have been reduced, its combined effects might replicate that of a more powerful storm.

The 400-mile-wide storm blew ashore in the morning in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys, then began a slow march up the state's west coast, its winds extending clear across to Miami on the Atlantic side.

One person is known to have died on the island of 1,600 residents, apparently a child whose family was trying to get to safer ground.

In places like Tampa and Port Charlotte, as the storm approaches from the south, strong winds blowing from the northeast have pushed water out of shallow parts of bays and harbors, according to CNN meteorologist Judson Jones.

"If I wasn't pregnant, I'd be in the vehicle headed north with my dog and my husband", she said. "Tonight, I'm scared to death".

At least four people were killed in the US Virgin Islands, officials told AFP.

Shruti Patel of Waterloo, Ont., said a scarcity of gas and extreme gridlock on local roads made it impossible to drive to safety.

Irma is now a minimal hurricane heading north.

The Guardian reported that an estimated 160,000 people are living in shelters in Florida right now, many of which are ill-equipped and lacking enough resources to accommodate the enormous influx of visitors.

Roy Cooper touched down by helicopter in Greensboro to meet with members of the National Guard.

Major tourist attractions, including Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, all prepared to close Saturday.

Lakeland is between Tampa and Orlando, off of Interstate 4.

Burns expects winds gusts to be around 45 miles per hour across the metro Monday morning, with winds being much higher south of the metro.

"I am very concerned about the west coast", Scott said of Florida's western shoreline that faces the Gulf of Mexico and is being hit hard by Irma. FEMA is still dealing with aftermath of catastrophic Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area. A 120 miles per hour gust was recently reported at the National Key Deer Refuge in Big Pine Key.