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‘Irma’ weakens

TAMPA, Fla.,/MIAMI (Reuters) – Hurricane Irma took aim at heavily populated areas of central Florida on Monday as it carved a path of destruction through the state with high winds and storm surges that left millions without power, ripped roofs off homes and flooded city streets.

Irma, once ranked as one of the most powerful hurricanes recorded in the Atlantic, came ashore on Florida on Sunday and battered towns up and down the state.

It weakened to a Category 1 hurricane, carrying maximum sustained winds of about 85 miles per hour (135 km per hour) by 2 a.m. ET (0600 GMT) on Monday. The storm was churning northwest in the center of the state near the Tampa and Orlando metro areas on Monday morning, the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm killed at least 28 people as it raged westward through the Caribbean en route to Florida, devastating several small islands, and grazing Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Haiti before pummeling parts of Cuba’s north coast with 36-foot-tall (11-m) waves.

Irma was ranked a Category 5, the rare top end of the scale of hurricane intensity, for days and its ferocity as it bore down on hurricane-prone Florida prompted one of the largest evacuations in US history. Some 6.5 million people, about a third of the state’s population, had been ordered to evacuate southern Florida. Residents fled to shelters, hotels or relatives in safer areas.

On Sunday, Irma claimed its first US fatality – a man found dead in a pickup truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds in the town of Marathon, in the Florida Keys.

High winds snapped power lines and left about 4.5 million Florida homes and businesses without power in the state, whose economy represents about 5 percent of US gross domestic product.

Irma was forecast to continue churning northward along Florida’s Gulf Coast during Monday morning, further weakening along the way before diminishing to tropical-storm status over far northern Florida or southern Georgia later in the day.

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