Hurricane Irma pummels Florida, nears Tampa region

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Irma was expected to reach the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area by early Monday. (WLS)

Hurricane Irma gave Florida a coast-to-coast pummeling with winds up to 130 mph Sunday, swamping homes and boats, knocking out power to millions and toppling massive construction cranes over the Miami skyline.

The 400-mile-wide (640-kilometer-wide) storm blew ashore in the mostly cleared-out Florida Keys, then began a slow trek up the state's west coast, its punishing winds extending clear across to Miami and West Palm Beach on the Atlantic side.

Irma was expected to reach the heavily populated Tampa-St. Petersburg area by early Monday, though in a much-weakened state. While it arrived in Florida a Category 4 hurricane, by nightfall it was down to a Category 2 with winds of 105 mph (177 kph).

"Pray, pray for everybody in Florida," Gov. Rick Scott said early Sunday on "Fox News Sunday" as some 116,000 people statewide waited it out in shelters.


Hurricane Irma made landfall on Marco Island, Florida, as a Category 3 hurricane at about 2:30 p.m. Sunday, hours after it made its first landfall in the U.S. at Cudjoe Key in lower Florida Keys, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Irma's powerful eye roared ashore at Marco Island just south of Naples with 115-mph (185-kph) winds. Category 3 storms have winds from 111 to 129 mph, but 130-mph (21-kph) wind gust was recently reported by the Marco Island Police Department.

Irma's second U.S. landfall was tied for the 21st strongest landfall in the U.S. based on central pressure. Irma's first U.S. landfall in the Florida Keys was tied for 7th. More than 3.3 million homes and businesses lost power as Irma moves up Florida peninsula.

At least three Irma-related deaths have been reported in Florida. A Hardee County, Florida, sheriff's deputy was one of two people killed in a car accident Sunday morning.

A man in Monroe County lost control of his truck in tropical storm strength winds and died, officials said. Two other people, including a sheriff's deputy, died in a car crash in the rain in Hardee County. Julie Bridges, a 13-year member of the Hardee County force, died in a two-car accident while driving home Sunday morning following a night shift, according to the Florida Highway Patrol. An unnamed sergeant at the Hardee Correctional Institute also died.

A third man in Florida died after losing control of a truck in Monroe County.


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The Tampa area is bracing for Hurricane Irma.

Chicago native Diana Cascone, who now lives in New Port Richey, north of Tampa, spoke to ABC7 from her home. Cascone and her elderly husband, who suffers from dementia are alone and unable to get a ride to a local shelter.

"I'm scared. I am scared," she said via phone.

She said she called at about 1 p.m. Saturday, "I gave all the information. I thought it was a reservation. So I thought they pick you up. Nobody picked us up," she said.


Hurricane Irma has pushed water out of a bay in Tampa, but forecasters are telling people not to venture out there, because it's going to return with a potentially deadly vengeance.

On Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa, approximately 100 people were walking Sunday afternoon on what was Old Tampa Bay - a body of water near downtown. Hurricane Irma's winds and low tide have pushed the water unusually far from its normal position. Some people are venturing as far as 200 yards (180 meters) out to get to the water's new edge. The water is normally about 4 to 5 feet (1 to 1.5 meters) deep and reaches a seawall.

The U.S. Hurricane Center has sent out an urgent alert warning of a "life-threatening storm surge inundation of 10 to 15 feet (3 to 5 meters) above ground level" and telling people to "MOVE AWAY FROM THE WATER!"

The waters retracted because the leading wind bands of Irma whipped the coastal water more out to sea. But once the eye passes and the wind reverses, the water will rush back in.


Along the Gulf Coast, two manatees became stranded after Hurricane Irma sucked the water out of Sarasota Bay, in Florida's Manatee County. Several people posted photos of the mammals on Facebook amid reports rescuers were able to later drag them to deeper water.

After leaving Florida, a weakened Irma is expected to push into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and beyond. A tropical storm warning was issued for the first time ever in Atlanta, some 200 miles (320 kilometers) from the sea.

President Donald Trump approved a disaster declaration for Florida, opening the way for federal aid.

"Once this system passes through, it's going to be a race to save lives and sustain lives," Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Brock Long said on "Fox News Sunday."

Irma at one time was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185 mph (300 kph), and its approach set off alarm in Florida.


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Heavy rain and wind whip trees

Many streets were underwater in downtown Miami and other cities. Roof damage and floating appliances and furniture were reported in the low-lying Keys, but the full extent of Irma's wrath there was not clear.

A Miami woman who went into labor was guided through delivery by phone when authorities couldn't reach her in high winds and street flooding. Firefighters later took her to the hospital.

An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, hundreds of miles away along the state's Atlantic coast. Flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida's midsection.

In downtown Miami, three construction cranes collapsed in the high winds. No injuries were reported. City officials said it would have taken about two weeks to move the cranes.

About 30,000 people heeded orders to leave the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused, in part because to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.

Monroe County administrator Roman Gastesi said crews would begin house-to-house searches Monday morning to check on survivors. An airborne relief mission, led by C-130 military cargo planes, was set to bring emergency supplies to the Keys.

John Huston, who stayed in his Key Largo home, watched his yard flood even before the arrival of high tide. "Small boats floating down the street next to furniture and refrigerators. Very noisy," he said by text message. "Shingles are coming off."

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Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys Sunday morning.

Irma made landfall just after 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles outside Key West, forecasters said.

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A tornado formed in the skies above Fort Lauderdale beach on Saturday (September 9) as Hurricane Irma approached the state from Cuba. (Courtesy: Karina Bauza)

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

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.

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Hurricane Irma's storm surge causes streets to flood in downtown Miami.

Florida Power and Light warned it will take weeks before electricity is fully restored.

Irma at one time was the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic, a Category 5 with a peak wind speed of 185 mph (300 kph). Given its size, strength and projected course, it could prove one of the most devastating hurricanes ever to hit Florida.

The storm brought memories of Hurricane Charley, which blew ashore near Fort Myers in 2004 with winds near 149 mph. It caused $15 billion in damage and was blamed for as many as 35 deaths in the U.S.

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Illinois crews are prepared to go to Florida to help with recovery.

ABC News and WLS-TV contributed to this report

Related Topics:
weatheru.s. & worldhurricane irmahurricaneFlorida
(Copyright ©2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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