Hurricane Irma smashes Florida

Hurricane Irma smashes Florida Keys bringing tornadoes, flooding and fierce winds

THREE people were killed in car crashes, caught in Hurricane Irma’s destructive path as it made landfall in Florida, according to US officials.

Announcing itself with roaring winds, Irma swept over the Florida Keys for the start of what could be a slow, ruinous march up the state’s west coast towards the heavily populated Tampa-St Petersburg area.

As winds pushed a wall of water up to 4.5 metres high, Florida Governor Rick Scott implored: “Pray for us.”

The hurricane is expected to rake Florida’s west coast throughout Sunday, a change from earlier predictions that left some residents and officials scrambling to find shelter.
At least 1.4 million customers are without power, including more than 75 per cent of Miami-Dade County without power, reports Reuters.

In Miami the storm downed a huge crane in the city’s downtown with social media footage capturing the terrifying moment. Whitecaps were also seen forming on streets in the Brickell neighbourhood of Miami as the storm surge rushed into the city.

Earlier, the eye of the Category 4 storm hit Key West before being revised to Category 3, bringing winds of up to 210km/h and threatening dangerous storm surges. The eyeball is where the most severe weather occurs while the eye of the storm brings calmer conditions.
The National Hurricane Centre announced the arrival of the eyeball in their 7am advisory local time.

“People ask what they can do for us,” Mr Scott said on Fox News Sunday. “Pray for us. We need volunteers, nurses. … I hope everybody will pray for us.”
Mr Scott warned the devastating storm surge from Irma will cause the waters to rise quickly and overwhelm everything in its path.

“This water is going to come in very quickly, it’s going to cover your first floor potentially or more and then eventually it’s going to come out. I don’t know how you’re going to survive that,”? he said.

With first responders unable to hit the streets because of the lashing wind and rain, Mr Scott said residents who haven’t evacuated or sought shelter are on their own.
“This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation!” the National Weather Service in Key West said earlier, urging those who had not heeded dire warnings to evacuate to take shelter “now to protect your life!”.

Florida’s Naples Mayor Bill Barnett said he had never dealt with a storm like this. “This is just a monster,” he said.
Flooding of up to 4.5 metres - enough to cover a house - were expected and some areas are already experiencing heavy rain and hurricane-force winds..

A tornado funnel cloud also formed off the coast of Fort Lauderdale on Saturday about 6.40pm local time, with the US National Hurricane Centre warning that “a few” more were possible in south and central Florida.

Earlier the National Weather Service Key West said winds were “imminent” and told residents in the Florida Keys “it is time to hunker down”. In a tweet it advised people not to go outside, to get away from windows and to “put your shoes on now!”.

The impact of the storm could be felt in the neighbouring state of Georgia with a tropical storm warning issued for Atlanta, the first time that has happened in the city’s history. The warning means that tropical storm conditions are expected within the next 36 hours. Peak winds were expected to reach 48 to 64km/h with gusts of up to 88km/h.

Irma regained strength on Sunday as it headed towards southwest Florida after leaving a path of destruction across the Caribbean.

The city of St Petersburg is likely to take a direct hit from the storm as well as Tampa.
Neither St Peterburg or Tampa have suffered a major hurricane in nearly a century.
The New York Times reported that St Petersburg enacted a curfew starting at 5pm, and Tampa’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn, announced that a curfew would be in effect starting at 6pm Sunday. “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” he said, paraphrasing Mike Tyson. “Well, we’re about to get punched in the face.”

Mr Buckhorn said anyone remaining in the city’s mandatory evacuation zone had hours to move out, as it faces a potential 4.6m storm surge.
“This is our worst nightmare,” he said of the possible looming inundation on CNN.
“We are about to get our own version of what hell looks like.”
More than 6.3 million - nearly a third of Florida’s population - have been ordered to evacuate.

Earlier, MacDill air force Base, the military installation home to US Central Command, issued mandatory evacuation orders.

At least 25 people have been killed since Irma began its devastating march through the Caribbean earlier this week.

Terrified Cubans who rode out Irma in coastal towns - after the storm made landfall on Friday as a maximum-strength Category 5 storm on the Camaguey archipelago - reported “deafening” winds, uprooted trees and power lines, and blown rooftops.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, but officials reported “significant damage.” A total of 1.5 million people were evacuated.

Authorities in Havana were evacuating people from low-lying districts at risk from Atlantic storm surges. Enormous waves lashed the Malecon, the capital’s emblematic seafront, causing seawaters to penetrate some 820 feet into the capital, AFP journalists found.


In Florida, cities on both the east and west coasts took on the appearance of ghost towns, as nervous residents heeded insistent evacuation orders.
Irma is so wide that authorities were bracing for destructive storm surges on both coasts and the Keys.

And hurricane-force winds are expected to lash the peninsula as it rolls north toward Georgia.
On highway 75 along the western coast of Florida, a steady stream of cars pressed northward as thousands fled at the last minute.

Strip malls, fast food restaurants and retail giants were all closed for business.
In Key West, police had opened a “shelter of last resort” for those who had ignored mandatory evacuation orders.

Scott Abraham, who lives on the fifth floor of a beachfront apartment building in Miami Beach, is planning to ignore evacuation orders and ride the storm out with his wife and two kids.
“If I lived in a house I would have left, but if it gets flooded here it’s going to take a week at least to come back. I don’t want that,” he said.

Warning that Irma would be worse than Hurricane Andrew - which killed 65 people in 1992 -
Mr Scott said all 20.6 million Floridians should prepare to flee.
Cuban-American Orlando Reyes, 82, was forced to leave his assisted living facility in Miami Beach.
“It is frightening,” he told AFP at a shelter in Miami. “We had to leave without a cent, without taking a bath, or bringing anything.”


The storm smashed through a string of Caribbean islands, beginning with tiny Barbuda on Wednesday, followed by the holiday islands of St Barts and St Martin.
Also affected were the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Turks and Caicos. The Bahamas were spared Irma’s worst.

“Houses are smashed, the airport is out of action,” St Barts resident Olivier Toussaint said.
“Upside-down cars are in the cemeteries. Boats are sunk in the marina, shops are destroyed.” Another powerful storm, Hurricane Jose, had been heading toward the same string of Caribbean islands Irma has pommeled in recent days, but the area received a welcome reprieve when the storm began to gradually weaken and shift course towards the north.

The deteriorating weather had grounded aircraft and prevented boats from bringing relief supplies to hard-hit islands.

The US military was mobilising thousands of troops and deploying several large ships to aid with evacuations and humanitarian relief, as the air force removed scores of planes from the southern United States.

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