Irma weakened to a Category 2 storm at about 5pm Sunday as it hugged the coastline moving north through Fort Myers.
The National Hurricane Center said Irma’s winds were at 110 mph, just below major hurricane status, as the center of the still dangerous and wide storm moved farther inland late Sunday afternoon.
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Areas of Naples are now suffering substantial flooding and swathes of the west coast are under 15ft storm surge warnings. The National Hurricane Center said water levels in Naples rose 7ft in just 90 minutes.
A wind gust of 142 mph was recorded at the Naples Municipal Airport as the storm kept its top sustained wind speed of 110 mph.
Irma arrived as a category 4 storm but had fallen to a category 2 by late Sunday afternoon and was continuing to weaken as it marched up Florida’s Gulf Coast. Its center was on track to reach the Tampa Bay area by midnight.
The four-county area, with approximately 3 million residents, encompasses two of Florida’s largest cities: Tampa and St. Petersburg.
As Irma continued its unprecedented assault on the state, two of the four victims claimed in Florida were identified. Hardee County Sheriff’s deputy Julie Bridges, a mother of one, and Hardee Correctional Institute sergeant Joseph Ossman crashed and died on Sunday around 60 miles from Saratosa.