President Trump approves major disaster declaration in state, fourth largest in US

Hurricane Irma Sunday afternoon made a second landfall in Florida as the full force of the storm began pummeling the state's Gulf Coast with deadly storm surge and torrential downpours.

After the first landfall in the Florida Keys earlier Sunday, the eye of the storm traveled up to hit Marco Island, while at the same time rattling high-rises in Miami and inundating Naples.

Irma, once a top-tier Category 5 storm that destroyed the Caribbean, lost strength and was downgraded to Cat. 2 as it moved north into the U.S. mainland, with maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour (168 kmh).

However, officials continued to sound warnings that the real danger posed by the hurricane came in the form of storm surge, abnormal and extremely rapid rises in water levels.

"The threat of catastrophic storm surge flooding is highest along the southwest coast of Florida, where 10 to 15 feet of inundation above ground level is expected," the National Hurricane Center said in a statement. "This is a life-threatening situation," it added.

The hurricane triggered mass evacuations of historic proportions, with more than six million people asked to flee in Florida and the neighboring states. Nearly five million Floridians are without power, according to Florida Power & Light officials.

President Donald Trump Sunday afternoon approved a major disaster designation for the state of Florida, making full federal assistance available for emergencies as well as when the eventual hard work of recovery begins.

Irma devastated the Caribbean, leaving entire islands uninhabitable and causing at least two dozen deaths, before churning over Cuba and moving up to the continental U.S.

The storm is expected to travel northward in Florida to Ft. Meyers Sunday night and Tampa early Monday. Even as its strength dwindles due to repeated landfalls, forecasts show heavy downpour affecting much of Florida until Friday.

AA