WHAT'S HAPPENING: Irma parting shot: Floods, South in misery

A tree is seen toppled onto a pickup truck after being knocked down by the high winds as Hurricane Irma arrives

A tree is seen toppled onto a pickup truck after being knocked down by the high winds as Hurricane Irma arrives

Hurricane Irma is starting to spin up funnel clouds and at least one tornado, leading to warnings for parts of South Florida.

Irma is now a tropical storm with sustained winds of up to 70 miles per hour, located about 35 miles west of Gainesville and headed up the Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said at 8 a.m. ET. Even so, because of Irma's enormous size, the entire Florida Peninsula and even the Panhandle were likely to witness damaging winds.

Thousands in the Caribbean islands have been left homeless, and initial estimates of damage top $10 billion.

Many areas are stranded and without access from outside help, with the islands of the Florida Keys and western parts of the state isolated after bearing the brunt of Irma.

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said Hurricane Irma is going to pose challenges for first responders.

Officials say about two-thirds of residents are now in the dark, with relief operations under way and engineers working around the clock to restore power. "You've got to be patient". "Please, the Keys are not safe". About 6.3 million of the state's approximately 21 million residents have been asked to evacuate.

Gas stations in Florida, Alabama, Georgia and SC are running low on fuel as evacuees head inland ahead of Hurricane Irma.

With millions of residents yet to return to their properties, police have reported mass looting throughout the state.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic was snaking north out of the peninsula, with mattresses, gas cans and kayaks strapped to auto roofs.

But the Southeast will be hit with heavy winds and rain.

"It is frightening", he told AFP at a shelter in Miami.

The storm ravaged a series of tiny islands before slamming into the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

As the state of Florida braces for the arrival of Hurricane Irma, one Floridan is embracing an arrival of her own. "Boats are sunk in the marina, shops are destroyed".

"It's the worst storm I've ever seen", said South, the NOAA meteorologist.

The state thought it had escaped the worst case scenario earlier in the weekend as the storm was downgraded to Category 3 - but late Saturday night it re-energized and was upgraded back to Category 4, the second-worst level, with gusts of up to 144mph.

Last month, Hurricane Harvey sent gas prices soaring after the storm affected the infrastructure that refines about a quarter of the USA gas supply. That height of water would easily flood the first floors of most hotels, homes, and condos.

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