Irma's winds lash Key West; eye just offshore

Henrietta Strickland
September 16, 2017

Irma's eye was due to strike part of the Florida Keys early Sunday morning before driving up the state's southwestern coast toward Tampa Bay by Sunday afternoon, according to the hurricane center.

Hurricane Irma slammed into the Florida Keys on Sunday, September 10, lashing the tropical island chain with fearsome wind gusts as it churns towards the USA state's west coast where a mass exodus has turned cities into ghost towns. Petersburg area by Monday morning.

"It's going to be frightful", Florida Governor Rick Scott said of Irma on NBC television Sunday morning.

With maximum sustained winds of 120 miles per hour, Hurricane Irma has been downgraded to Category 3, the National Weather Service has said.

Cops in Miami have imposed a 7pm curfew on residents living within the city and an 8pm street ban on people in the Miami beach area. Roof damage and floating appliances and furniture were reported in the low-lying Keys, but the full extent of Irma's wrath was not clear. Firefighters later took her to the hospital. Local media later reported that a handful of tornadoes had formed, including one near Fort Lauderdale airport.

At least 25 people have been killed since Irma began its march through the Caribbean, smashing through a string of islands from tiny Barbuda on Wednesday, to the tropical paradises of St. Barts and St. Martin, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Turks and Caicos.

More than 6 million Florida residents were under evacuation orders by Sunday as officials urged Floridians to move out of Irma's path - but some residents stayed put, choosing to ride out the storm in vulnerable parts of the state rather than travel.

Almost 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to evacuate, including 6.4 million in Florida alone. There were no immediate reports of any damage or injuries. The center is about 20 miles E/SE of Key West and about 110 miles directly south of Naples. The eye wall is now moving north of Fort Myers.

Photos that emerged from the city showed wide streets flooded with white-capped water. Sunday church services were called off, and theme parks were closed. Only one other storm in the entire Atlantic basin - 1980's Allen - was stronger. "I'm anxious I won't have a house to go back to", said Diana Frana, who fled her canal-side home in Cape Coral, on Fort Myers' outskirts. "Let's just say a prayer we hope we make it through".

The governor activated all 7,000 members of the Florida National Guard, and 10,000 guardsmen from elsewhere were being deployed.

Irma slammed into Florida this morning, threatening to devastate much of the state.

With FEMA still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, Irma could test the agency's ability to handle two disasters at the same time.

Authorities have gone door to door in Florida warning residents to leave or take shelter. That weakened Irma enough that when upper level winds from the west eroded some of the storm's top and also blew in dry air, it had the combined of effect of making Irma more ragged, Masters said.

5PM SUNDAY UPDATE: Hurricane Irma is now a category 2 hurricane with sustained winds at 110 miles per hour.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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