Hurricane Irma: Rare animals, including six-toed cats and endangered deer, ride out wild weather

Hurricane Irma: Rare animals, including six-toed cats and endangered deer, ride out wild weather

Hurricane Irma: Rare animals, including six-toed cats and endangered deer, ride out wild weather

Updated 12 September 2017, 19:30 AEST

Hurricane Irma may have shattered homes and flooded communities, but a colony of six-toed cats descended from Ernest Hemingway's adopted tomcat and a tiny endangered deer species appear to have survived.

Hurricane Irma may have shattered homes and flooded communities across Florida, but a colony of six-toed cats descended from Ernest Hemingway's adopted tomcat and a tiny endangered deer species appear to have survived.

Irma hit the Florida Keys islands as a powerful category four hurricane early on Sunday, bringing sustained winds of up to 209 kilometres per hour and inflicting widespread damage on the archipelago off the tip of southern Florida.

While Key West remains without water and electricity, the museum dedicated to acclaimed American author Ernest Hemingway, sitting on one of the highest points in the area, was undamaged, curator Dave Gonzales said.

"We were well prepared and very blessed," Mr Gonzales said.

All 54 cats at the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum — six-toed felines descended from a tomcat named Snow White that the author adopted while he lived there in the 1930s — were accounted for, he said.

The museum keeps the bloodline of the original polydactyl cat intact, as well as the author's penchant for naming the cats after famous people like actors Grace Kelly, Liz Taylor and Lionel Barrymore, Mr Gonzales said.

General manager Jacque Sands said, who lives in the main house, sheltered on the property with 11 staff members during the storm.

Ms Sands said she never considered evacuating the property as leaving would have meant abandoning the cats.

"The cats took care of us, or so they think," she said.

Built in 1851, the home was purchased by Hemingway and his second wife Pauline in 1928.

It is filled with Hemingway artefacts, including antique European furnishings and mounted animal heads and skins Hemingway amassed while on African safaris and hunting trips to the American West.

Owned by a private group, the house and grounds were deemed a National Historic Landmark in 1968, seven years after Hemingway's death.

Endangered deer spotted after fears for species

Several endangered deer found only in the lower Florida keys were also sighted on Monday, easing fears about the fate of the tiny species after Irma swamped their vulnerable archipelago ecosystem.

With the highway to the Keys islands open only to emergency vehicles, power mostly out and communications disrupted, experts said it was too early to tell how the overall population of up to 1,000 Key deer had fared.

But those who were anxious about their survival rejoiced on social media when a short video was posted on Twitter showing several cavorting by a roadside on Big Pine Key.

The Key deer is the smallest subspecies of the North American white-tailed deer, with males standing only about one metre at the shoulder and females even smaller.

Most live on two islands, Big Pine Key and No Name Key, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine, only 24 km east of where Irma slammed ashore, was closed ahead of the storm's arrival, officials said, and will remain shut to visitors until further notice.

"We will assess the status of all refuge resources when it is safe to do so and we have the ability to do so," superintendent of the refuge Dan Clark said.

Irma was downgraded to a tropical storm on Monday.

Reuters