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Florida cleaning up, assessing damage as Irma dissipates

Damage from Hurricane Irma was severe enough to make a noticeable short-term dent on the US economy, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said Tuesday, with assessment and clean-up underway in storm-ravaged Florida.

Hardest hit were the Florida Keys - where authorities estimated that 25 per cent of homes were irreparably flattened - and the city of Jacksonville, 700 kilometres to the north, which suffered widespread flooding.

"I would say there clearly is going to be an impact on GDP in the short run. We will make it up in the long run," Mnuchin said at a Wall Street event in New York. "As we rebuild, that will help GDP."

Economists and meteorologists have estimated Irma's damage at 150 billion dollars or more, as the storm scoured the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, thrashed the entire Florida peninsula and flooded neighbouring states.

Analysts from investment bank Goldman Sachs estimated that the storm would trim 1 percentage point from annualized growth in the current third quarter of 2017.

US gross domestic product was nearly 18.5 trillion dollars last year.

"I think it's too early to tell what the exact estimates will be, but I think [Irma] won't have a bad impact on the economy," Mnuchin said.

Transportation officials were conducting safety inspections of the bridges and causeways that connect the Keys, a chain of islands off the southern tip of Florida, Governor Rick Scott said.

In Jacksonville, with a population of 880,000, more than 300 people were rescued from flooding as the storm surge pushed water late Wednesday into the city centre, even as the downgraded storm was leaving Florida.

The rest of the state suffered significant wind damage, coastal flooding from storm surge and heavy rain. Some 60 per cent of households and businesses were still without electricity, Scott said.

Scott said petrol tankers were waiting off shore to deliver supplies once still-closed ports are reopened.

Flights resumed Tuesday at several of Florida's major airports.

Walt Disney World and competing theme parks near Orlando in central Florida reopened after imposing rare closures on Sunday and Monday.

The White House said that President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania would travel to Florida on Thursday.

Mnuchin said that last week's vote in Congress authorizing more than 15 billion dollars in disaster recovery related to Hurricane Harvey, which caused widespread flooding late last month in eastern Texas, was a "down payment" on federal storm response.

"We'll see what we need to spend more, but the president will make sure that whatever the federal government needs to contribute to this, we will do so," Mnuchin said.

The powerful storm came ashore Sunday in the Keys before a second landfall on Florida's south-west coast, after rampaging across the Caribbean. Much of the island of Saint Martin was flattened.

At least 48 people have been killed by Irma, including 11 in the United States.

Irma lost steam over land and was downgraded Tuesday to a tropical depression as it continued to dump heavy rain over the south-eastern United States, causing flooding in Florida, Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina.

No longer fuelled by warm, moist air over open seas, the storm remnants are likely to quickly dissipate in the Mississippi Valley, the National Weather Service said.

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