Deaths, floods, misery from Irma hit South — WHAT'S HAPPENING

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More than 200,000 people waited in shelters across Florida. "I figured my house was probably destroyed. but my son said, 'No, it's fine, '" said Hartman.

But unlike with Harvey, risky winds will barely abate once Irma makes landfall on Sunday morning.

LIVE BLOG: Latest updates on Hurricane Irma. "At this point, I don't think there's a whole lot that can happen to not make it bad". After losing power late Sunday, he made it through the worst of the storm shaken but unhurt.

As of the 11:00pm ET advisory, Hurricane Irma is a Category 3 hurricane with sustained winds of 120 miles per hour moving at 6 miles per hour to the WNW.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported that at 05:00 local time the center of the hurricane was located 55 kilometers east-southeast of Cedar Key, and 100 kilometers north of Tampa.

The US Army has so far deployed more than 7,400 soldiers and US Army Corps of Engineers civilians on the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the continental US.

The expansive storm pivoted off of Cuba's northern coast Saturday, leaving in its wake a string of island nations still counting their dead. Already, two USA deaths have been reported.

As dawn approached, mayors and emergency responders across the state implored citizens to stay in place and not to venture outside until crews can assess damage and give the all-clear that it's safe to leave their homes.

Officials said the greatest impact from Irma on north Georgia will likely be toppled trees and a loss of power to homes and businesses for several days. By Saturday night, winds near hurricane force were recorded in the Keys.

The receding shoreline can give people a false sense of security, CNN meteorologist Gene Norman said. The damage in Florida totaled $26 billion, and at least 40 people died.

Parts of coastal Georgia and SC remained under storm surge warning late Monday. The highest levels are expected in northeast Hillsborough Bay and in the Feather Sound area of Pinellas County.

"We evacuate for storm surge, not wind", hurricane center storm surge specialist Jamie Rhome said. It was responsible for numerous 1,500 deaths associated with Hurricane Katrina in 2005, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Shuyi Chen, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle, said the weather phenomena is common during extreme storm conditions like Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

"It's not a wall of water", he said.

"As a father, you know, of three young children it's very scary", Tony Dill says.

Tampa's storm surge could be between five and eight feet.

In Pinellas County, low-lying areas like Snell Isle and Shore Acres are particularly vulnerable, as are the beach communities along the Gulf Coast.

It will be a nice waterfront lot in sunny Florida with no house, no trees, no cars, no boats and an awesome view of devastation as far as you can see.

Unsafe winds pose another threat.

Even before the extent of its potential devastation was clear, the storm made a huge swath of the peninsula's bottom half unrecognisable.

Irma will bring heavy rain and tornadoes, too.

Now is not the time to become complacent, said Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.

The eye of the hurricane - which is the size of France - struck the United States on Sunday.

"No. 1, I don't have anywhere to go", said Roberts, an attorney.

"It's such a rarity along the west coast of Florida", he said. As the region tries to drain, winds will blow in from the Gulf, keeping the bay's water levels high for days.

The Keys were already taking punches from Irma on Saturday. Because the roof was replaced after Andrew along with storm windows and a backup generator, she's not moving. Any shift in its trajectory would set off a series of new predictions.

Given its mammoth size and strength and its projected course, it could prove one of the most devastating hurricanes ever to hit Florida and inflict damage on a scale not seen here in 25 years.

Ahead of its arrival, the hurricane triggered mass evacuations, with more than 6 million people in Florida and neighboring states asked to flee. Publix employees handed out cases of water as fast as shoppers could fill their carts.

That's because some islands are extremely hard to access. No one may return to the islands after 6 a.m.

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