With pounding winds of 130 miles per hour, Hurricane Irma swept over the Florida Keys on Sunday and headed toward southwest Florida after leaving a path of destruction across the Caribbean.
The extent of the effects in the Keys from the storm, which was upgraded to a Category 4 hurricane overnight, was not immmediately apparent.
“We don’t have the exact numbers on everyone who stayed in the Keys,” Gov. Rick Scott of Florida said in a television interview on Sunday morning, referring to a mandatory evacuation order that had been in place for several days. “I hope everyone listened.”
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. The new track could expose St. Petersburg — rather than Miami or Tampa — to a direct hit. St. Petersburg enacted a curfew starting at 5 p.m., and Tampa’s mayor, Bob Buckhorn, announced that a curfew would be in effect starting at 6 p.m. 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.”
Cities that escaped the storm’s full force were still feeling significant effects. On Sunday morning, the streets in Miami were flooding and quickly becoming impassable.
The storm was expected to move up the state’s west coast before heading inland over the Panhandle and into Georgia on Monday afternoon.
Torrential rain and whipping winds at Brickell Key in Miami early on Sunday heralded the arrival of Hurricane Irma.
Midday on Sunday, Miami was facing Hurricane-force gusts of 70 to 90 miles per hour, the National Weather Service said. Winds at those speeds were expected to continue through the evening, according to Chris Fisher, a meteorologist with the agency.
As Irma hit the Florida Keys, the storm gathered intensity in Miami, tearing signs from their foundations, downing power lines, ripping trees from their roots and whipping the huge cranes that dot the Miami skyline around in precarious circles.
Water from Biscayne Bay was flooding streets throughout the city, making roads impassable. Across the metro Miami area, rivers and lakes were overflowing. Most buildings and houses were shrouded in darkness, streetlights were out, and police officers and National Guard troops were hunkered down like everyone else.
The storm was expected to batter the city for hours, and many people who had evacuated to hotels and other places of safety found themselves without air-conditioning but with windows shut tight, an atmosphere that quickly became claustrophobic.—NY Times