FLORIDA CITY/MARCO ISLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – Florida allowed some residents to return on Tuesday to areas hammered by Hurricane Irma’s high winds and storm surge, while the death toll rose in the second major hurricane to hit the United States this year.
Irma, which had rampaged through the Caribbean as one of the most powerful Atlantic hurricanes on record, was downgraded to a tropical depression on Monday. It will likely dissipate from Tuesday evening, the National Hurricane Center said.
At its peak the storm prompted evacuation orders for 6.5 million people in Florida, the largest evacuation in modern U.S. history.
Irma killed nearly 40 people in the Caribbean and at least six in Florida and Georgia.
A local Florida official said there had been more deaths yet to be reported, particularly on the Florida Keys, where Irma arrived as a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of up to 130 miles per hour (215 km per hour) on Sunday morning.
Local authorities told around 90,000 residents of Miami Beach and from some parts of the Keys they could go home but warned it might not be prudent to remain there.
“This is going to be a frustrating event. It’s going to take some time to let people back into their homes particularly in the Florida Keys,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told a news conference.
FEMA was continuing to rescue people stranded by flooding around Jacksonville, in the state’s northeast, he said.
Irma devastated several Caribbean islands en route to Florida. It destroyed about one-third of the buildings on the Dutch-ruled portion of St. Martin island, the Dutch Red Cross said on Tuesday.
The storm was the second major hurricane to make landfall in the United States in a little more than two weeks when it roared over Key Cudjoe. Hurricane Harvey plowed into Houston late last month, killing about 60 and wreaking some $180 billion in damage, largely through flooding.
Monroe County Commissioner Heather Carruthers said on Monday that people had been killed in the Keys, which have nearly 80,000 permanent residents, but she did not have a count on how many.
“We are finding some remains,” she said in an interview with CNN. Video footage of the islands showed homes torn apart.
Several major airports in Florida that halted passenger…