Sun. 10 p.m.: Irma hits Florida’s midsection
MIAMI (AP) — 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 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.
“Pray, pray for everybody in Florida,” Gov. Rick Scott said on “Fox News Sunday” as more than 160,000 people waited out Irma in shelters statewide.
There were no immediate confirmed reports of any deaths in Florida in addition to the 24 people killed during Irma’s destructive trek across the Caribbean.
In the low-lying Keys, where a storm surge of over 10 feet (3 meters) was recorded, appliances and furniture were seen floating away, and Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said the ocean waters were filled with navigation hazards, including sunken boats. But the full extent of Irma’s wrath there was not clear.
The 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.
A Miami woman who went into labor was guided through delivery by phone when authorities couldn’t reach her because of high winds and street flooding. Firefighters later took her to the hospital.
Many streets were flooded in downtown Miami and other cities.
In downtown Miami, two of the two dozen construction cranes looming over the skyline collapsed in the wind. No injuries were reported.
An apparent tornado spun off by Irma destroyed six mobile homes in Palm Bay, midway up the Atlantic coast. Flooding was reported along Interstate 4, which cuts across Florida’s midsection.
Curfews were imposed in Miami, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and much of the rest of South Florida, and some arrests of violators were reported. Miami Beach barred outsiders from the island.
Fort Lauderdale police arrested nine people they said were caught on TV cameras looting sneakers and other items from a sporting goods store and a pawn shop during the hurricane.
More than 3.3 million homes and businesses across the state lost power, and utility officials said it will take weeks to restore electricity to everyone.
While Irma raked Florida’s Gulf Coast, forecasters warned that the entire state — including the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people — was in danger because of the sheer size of the storm.
Nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to evacuate, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.
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.