Streets flood, power cuts out in Florida as Hurricane Idalia makes landfall

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Washington: Hurricane Idalia unleashed devastation in Florida after making landfall as a Category 3 storm, submerging streets and homes, sparking widespread power outages and resulting in at least two deaths from car crashes.

But after lashing sparsely populated stretches of Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday morning, the hurricane had weakened to Category 1 strength by Wednesday afternoon as it may its way towards Georgia and the Carolinas.

People kayak past an abandon vehicle in the intersection of Boca Ciega Drive and Pasadena Avenue Credit: Tampa Bay Times

US President Joe Biden used the latest weather event – which comes after record wildfires in Canada and Maui – to highlight the impact of climate change.

“I don’t think anybody can deny the impact of a climate crisis anymore,” he said at the White House. “Just look around. Historic floods. More intense droughts. Extreme heat. Significant wildfires that have caused significant damage like we’ve never seen before.”

Despite the storm not being as fatal as authorities initially feared, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said Idalia was the strongest hurricane to hit the Big Bend area of Florida in 100 years, which takes in coastal towns such as Keaton Beach, Cedar Key and Steinhatchee.

“While it is still too soon to assess the damage, we know that the storm made landfall as a category 3, which means over 120 mile per hour (193 km/h) winds and up to 10 inches (25 cm) of rain in some areas,” Criswell told reporters in Washington.

The remains of four old chicken houses, now used for storage, sit collapsed after the passage of Hurricane IdaliaCredit: AP

Idalia came to shore near Keaton Beach at 7.45am, unleashing its fury in a state that only last year was smashed by Hurricane Ian, one of the costliest weather disasters on record was the third-costliest weather disaster on record.

Home and cars across the Big Bend region were flooded, boats became unmoored and more than 260,000 people in Florida were without electricity, with power outages for a further 100,000 people in Georgia.

About 900 flights across Florida and Georgia were cancelled or delayed, roofs were blown off houses and even the mansion of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was damaged by a 100-year-old oak tree falling on the property in Tallahassee, the state’s capital.

DeSantis’ wife Casey was home with their three children at the time, but as she posted on social media, “thankfully no one was injured”.

Rescue crews also had to free people in a Hudson Beach community from their homes after Idalia’s storm surge caused flooding in the area.

“We’re getting reports of anywhere between 3-5 feet of water that’s come inland and people are trapped in their houses,” said Pasco County deputy fire chief Jeremy Sidlauskas.

And two deaths have been confirmed so far – both of which took place before the hurricane made landfall, due to wet and slippery road conditions.

Visitors to the Southernmost Point buoy brave the waves made stronger from Hurricane Idalia.Credit: AP

The first took place just before 6am in Gainesville, when a 59-year-old man in a Toyota pickup truck swerved and veered into a ditch before crashing into a nearby tree line.

The second occurred around 6.15am in Pascoe County when a 40-year-old man driving too fast for the road conditions lost control of his vehicle and collided with a tree.

In anticipation of a catastrophic surge of tidal water, millions of residents had evacuated to higher ground or hunkered down, but the storm’s power dissipated as it headed into Georgia.

“We’re kind of in that wait-and-hold pattern,” Georgia’s state Emergency Management Agency Director James Stallings said at a briefing on Wednesday.

Residents wade through a street flooded by rains brought on by Hurricane IdaliaCredit: AP

“Hopefully, it’s out of the state by 8pm this evening, maybe 10 o’clock, and then that we can begin to assess for those that were hit first.”

South Carolina governor Henry McMaster said at a news conference that his state could expect high winds, flash flooding and “lots of rain”.

“Be careful and stay inside tonight,” he added.

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