Irmas northern eyewall reaches lower Florida Keys, lashing region with near 130 mph gusts after devastating Caribbean
Hurricane Irma has begun its assault on Florida as a category 4 storm, lashing the area with gusts near 130 mph( 215 km/ h) and drenching rain.
Millions of people huddled in shelters or in battened-down homes in preparation as Irma’s northern eyewall- the region just outside the eye of the storm, where the most damaging gusts are- arrived at the lower Florida Keys. The US National Hurricane Center( NHC) said the hurricane was expected to remain a powerful cyclone as it moved through the Florida Keys and near the state’s west coast.
The leading edge of the enormous cyclone- one of the most powerful ever recorded in the Atlantic- bent palm trees and spat rainfall across south Florida, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and business, as the eye approached Key West.
Police told a man was killed in Florida Keys when his pickup truck was involved in an accident. It was thought to be the first death caused by Irma in the US.
The NHC forecast potentially deadly storm surges- water driven ashore by the winds- of up to 15 ft( 4.6 m ). As the northern edge of the storm arrived at the Florida Keys archipelago off the tip-off of southern Florida, lashing rainfalls and gusts knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of people on the mainland.
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” Pray for us ,” the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, said in an ABC News interview as his country braced for the massive storm, which has already left a road of extermination through the Caribbean.
Irma, which inspired one of the largest evacuations in US history, was a category 4 hurricane about 20 miles( 30 km) east-southeast of Key West, Florida, at 8 am EDT( 1pm BST ), the NHC reported.
A day after hitting Cuba’s northern coast, Irma was on a path that would take it along Florida’s Gulf of Mexico coast, near population centres including Tampa and St Petersburg, the NHC said. Hundreds of thousands of people spent the night in emergency shelters.
Irma was expected to roar up Florida’s western coast through the working day on Sunday, with hurricane-force winds widening 80 miles( 129 km) from its centre. Forecasters also alerted tornadoes could form in large portions of the state.
” Take action now to protect your life ,” the National Weather Service in Key West advised.” This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation .”
More than 7 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes in several countries, including nearly a third of Florida’s population, creating massive traffic jams on highways and overcrowding shelters. About 50,000 people were in 300 shelters around the nation, counties enacted curfews and power companies began to struggle with demand.
In Miami on Saturday Guardian reporter Richard Luscombe was sheltering with his family in a 5ft x 5ft interior closet with no windows, away from exterior walls and doors.
” The threat of tornadoes comes from thunderstorms in Hurricane Irma’s violent outer bands, which have been circling over Miami-Dade and Broward districts for most of the working day as the storm moves ever closer.
” It’s likely to be a long night in the closet with the children .”
Donald Trump was monitoring the progress of the storm from the presidential retreat in Camp David, Maryland, where he held a cabinet meeting.
In Palm Beach, Trump’s waterfront Mar-a-Lago estate was under evacuation order.
” This is a blizzard of enormous destructive power, and I ask everyone in the storm’s track to heed ALL instructions from government officials ,” Trump said on Twitter.