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Destructive winds, rain hit Florida as Hurricane Irma makes landfall in the Keys

National Weather Service said the storm made landfall at 9:10 a.m. on Cudjoe Key, with wind gusts reaching 130 mph
MONITORING DESK
MIAMI
The fierce winds of Hurricane Irma regained Category 4 strength early Sunday as the storm’s eye made it to the lower Florida Keys just before 9 a.m. The massive storm already has caused hundreds of thousands of power outages across South Florida, its leading edge lashing several major population centers.
The National Weather Service said the storm made landfall at 9:10 a.m. on Cudjoe Key, with wind gusts reaching 130 mph. Forecasters warn that a second landfall could happen later on Sunday as Irma heads north to the U.S. mainland.
Officials said storm surges in the Keys could reach a devastating five to 10 feet there before the hurricane slowly proceeds up the state’s west coast.
“A very dangerous day is unfolding in the Florida Keys and much of West Florida,” Michael Brennan, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said in an early morning update Sunday. “It certainly could inundate the entire island. That’s why everyone in the Keys was urged so strongly to evacuate.”
And due to the size of the hurricane, weather officials warn that Florida’s east coast — home to Miami and Fort Lauderdale — also remains in danger from winds and storm surges expected to easily overwhelm some areas. Officials fears the storm could ravage the state with destruction not seen in a generation.
More than 6 million residents were ordered evacuated by Saturday evening, as Irma’s outer bands scraped Florida, forcing thousands to cram into shelters. Gov. Rick Scott (R) sounded dire warnings about the storm, urging residents in evacuation zones to leave their homes immediately.
“Once the storm starts, law enforcement cannot save you,” Scott said Saturday at a news conference in Sarasota.
While the National Hurricane Center had downgraded Irma to a Category 3 storm Saturday, the storm was upgraded again to Category 4 early Sunday. At 5 a.m., weather officials said the storm was plodding northwest at about 8 miles per hour, placing it on pace to reach Naples by about 5 p.m. The storm could potentially make a second landfall further north on Sunday.
“It could make landfall anywhere along the west coast,” Brennan said. “It’s really hard to predict where the eye will make landfall on the west coast once it leaves the keys.”
Regardless of its track, all of Florida will probably experience damaging winds, rains, flooding and possibly tornadoes. The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for all of southern Florida and the Florida Keys.
The National Weather Service said southwestern Florida could see storm surges up to 15 feet if peak surge happens during high tide. A storm surge warning is in effect for much of the Florida peninsula.
“This is a deadly storm and our state has never seen anything like it,” Scott said.
Counties including Broward on the east coast have imposed curfews, and at least 70 more shelters were opening across the state Saturday. At least 50,000 people are staying in 260 state shelters, Scott said. He implored nurses to volunteer throughout Florida; the state desperately needs 1,000 nurses in its special-needs shelters.
By Saturday afternoon, storm conditions had swept into Miami, now a ghost metropolis. There was no traffic on typically jammed roads and highways. Almost all stores appeared to be closed. By midday, dozens of people crowded Vicky Bakery on Coral Way, the one place for miles that was open. In downtown Miami, cranes spun like toys. A wind gust of 70 mph was recorded at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Saturday afternoon.
At the Miami-Dade Emergency Operations Center, Fire Chief Dave Downey said that after the storm passes, his teams will deploy to the Florida Keys and to southwest Florida to assist with rescue efforts. The question, he said, “is how fast can we get into the Keys, how fast can we get into the west coast.” The likelihood that the storm will make a direct hit on the Keys, he said, “terrifies all of us.”
Emergency managers in Monroe County, which encompasses the Keys, were forced by the track of the storm to abandon their Emergency Operations Center in Marathon, in the Middle Keys, and relocate to relatively high ground in Key Largo, at the northern end of the island chain. Downey said he feared that the storm could knock out the Overseas Highway, which would hamper rescue efforts.
That would necessitate mobilizing by air and water. But he said his department’s helicopters had been moved ahead of the storm to Orlando, to keep them from being damaged.
He said he spoke Saturday to a counterpart in Marco Island, a small community south of Naples. “The people who haven’t evacuated, they know who they are and where they are.”
Downey described the triage of a first response — the fact that rescue teams will go looking for someone who has called 911 and then encounter five more people in need along the way.
“You hear the first person scream, you think that’s the worst. I’m more concerned about the people we haven’t heard from,” the chief said.



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