FLORIDA CITY/ESTERO, Fla. (Reuters) – Displaced Florida residents started heading back to their homes on Monday as a weakened Hurricane Irma advanced inland, flooding several cities in the northeast of the state while millions of people remained without power.
Downgraded to a tropical storm early on Monday, Irma had ranked as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes recorded. It cut power to millions of people and ripped roofs off homes as it hit a wide swath of Florida on Sunday and Monday.
Authorities said the storm had killed 38 people in the Caribbean and one in Florida, a man found dead in a pickup truck that had crashed into a tree in high winds on the Florida Keys over the weekend.
With sustained winds of up to 60 mph (100 kph), Irma had crossed into Georgia and was situated about 47 miles (76 km)northeast of the Florida state capital Tallahassee, the National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. ET.
High winds snapped power lines and left almost 6.5 million homes and businesses without power in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, state officials and utilities said. They said it could take weeks to complete repairs.
Miami International Airport, one of the busiest in the country, halted passenger flights through at least Monday.
Police in Miami-Dade County said they had made 29 arrests for looting and burglary. Fort Lauderdale police said they had arrested 19 people for looting.
About two dozen vehicles filled with people hoping to return home after fleeing the Florida Keys, where Irma roared ashore on Sunday with sustained winds of up to 130 mph (209 kph), lined up near the entrance to the highway that connects the archipelago to the mainland with a series of bridges and causeways.
They expressed anger at police who asked them to drive to a racetrack a few miles away to register first.
“This is how people are going to die – nobody’s going to want to leave the Keys,” shouted Shelby Bentley. “I’ve been in the Keys for 40 years … It’s the first time I’ve evacuated from a hurricane. It’ll be my last time.”
Officials in Monroe County, where the Keys are located, said most of the islands still lacked fuel, electricity, running water and cell service on Monday.
“Supplies are running low and anxiety is running high,” the county said in a statement posted online.
Irma hit Florida after powering through the Caribbean as a rare Category 5 hurricane. It killed 38 people, including 10 in Cuba, which was battered over the…